Seal pups vulnerable on shores: DFO
Poor ice conditions around P.E.I. have forced seal pups on to the shore this year, prompting scientists to warn against human interference.
Seals prefer to give birth on ice floes, where the pups are safer from predators. The pups have been forced ashore this year, providing an opportunity for wildlife photographers in the province but leaving the animals vulnerable.
"The best thing is to just leave the animals where they are. The animals are perfectly fine on their own and if they want, they'll go into the water," said Mike Hammill, a scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
"If they don't want to go they'll just stay and sort of lounge on the beach."
The department estimates at least 200 seal pups are living on the shores of P.E.I. They are between two and a half and four weeks old and have already been weaned off their mothers.
Hammill said while the pups can survive on their fat before they're ready to go into the water, their chances of escaping from predators aren't good.
"Pretty slim. I think coyotes will get a lot of them and I think the eagles will take them. Also the gulls, they'll take them too, because the gulls come up and pick at the eyes of these animals and eventually they die," he said.
"People may try to pick them up and move them. That's also problematic because the animals may bite people and so you want to avoid that if possible."
The International Fund for Animal Welfare, which has been tracking the seal pups, said the annual seal hunt should be called off.
"I think it's unethical, especially when we're seeing the bad ice conditions to allow a hunt to continue for the few remaining survivors," said Sheryl Fink, the director of IFAW's seal program.
"If this population is going to have any chance for survival, in the face of climate change, we need to start protecting this population and we need to stop commercially hunting."
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it takes the lack of ice into consideration when setting the seal catch limit. It estimates there are nine million seals in the Atlantic region and said the herd is healthy, even with the higher seal pup mortality rate.
The hunt began Sunday at 6 a.m. for all sealers from the Gulf, the Maritimes and the Magdalen Islands, but the department said it does not know of any boats that have gone out to hunt so far.