Nfld. & Labrador

Seeing beached seals in N.L.? Don't worry, says DFO scientist

Although sightings of seals laying ashore have been reported around N.L., one DFO scientist says that there is no cause for alarm.

‘Leave them alone, they'll eventually go back on their own’

Garry Stenson is a research scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Garry Stenson, a research scientist at the DFO, says that reports of seals laying ashore are on the rise recently — and that these sightings are not a cause for concern. 

Stenson said that laying on the shore is simply a part of seal life.

"There's always a concern that this is an unnatural thing. But in fact, it is natural for harp seals and hooded seals, which are the two main species we get here in the winter," said Stenson.

Stenson said that reports of beached seals have been on the rise over the holidays, from coastal spots all across the island. Although he appreciates the calls, nothing has to be done in most of the cases reported.

If anything, it's important to leave the seals alone.

"They're just resting on the shoreline," he said. "What they do after a while is just go back on their own into the water."

He said that seals have been spotted especially frequently around the Avalon, in places like Flatrock and Holyrood. 

Even if it seems like these seals haven't been eating for a few days, they've accumulated a thick layer of blubber in the fall and winter and are just fine, he said. Seeing blood on the ground near the seals is also normal, he said. 

Seals hauled out on the shores of Southern Bay. (Abigail Maloney)

"Sometimes when they're crawling over beaches they'll break a nail and they'll get a little bit of blood, but again, that isn't unusual."

Stenson said that safety is important to keep in mind when encountering these animals. Staying away from them will ensure that they don't hiss or growl at you.

"Give it space. These are wild animals. Leave them alone," he said.

If a seal has crawled onto a road, then it may be appropriate to call a local fishery officer, said Stenson. 

He recalled 10 or 15 years ago, when a seal was found on the road in Torbay. It was successfully taken to the shores of Middle Cove. 

He encouraged people to phone for help if they see a similar situation playing out.

Not an indication of population problems

The shores of Middle Cove, where Stenson has released seals that have ended up on roadways. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Stenson said these recent sightings have no correlation to the health of the seal population, and that he'd received calls of this nature for decades.

"What it may have more an indication of is lack of ice offshore. They're generally an offshore species, and they'll haul out on the ice. If there's no ice around them, the only place they can haul out is on shore," he said.

A DFO report on the seal population is expected to be released to the public in late January.

"The one thing that we want people to understand is that just because a seal is hauled out, it doesn't have to be moved."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Here and Now.