Wednesday, February 01, 2006

No floes, so seals swarm islands to birth pups

Feb. 1, 2006. 01:00 AM

HALIFAX— Several islands off Nova Scotia are being inundated by thousands of pregnant seals forced to give birth on shore by unusually mild weather that prevented the Gulf of St. Lawrence from freezing.
About 3,000 grey seals are thought to be hunkered down on Pictou Island, a narrow, 10-kilometre long island in Northumberland Strait where about 15 people live year round.
Scientists with the federal fisheries department add that the mammals have moved to at least two other islands in the area.
Warm weather has persisted across the Maritimes for months, reflecting a nation-wide climatic trend.
The mother seals, some as heavy as 360 kilograms, normally whelp their pups on ice floes that clog the gulf.
Fisheries spokesman Leroy MacEachern said yesterday from Antigonish, N.S., "There's been no cold weather and no ice formed in the gulf."
Officials say they haven't seen so many seals onshore since the early 1980s.
Halifax wildlife officer Jerry Conway said the seals aren't necessarily in danger but asks people to stay clear since mothers can be aggressive. "If a female gets cornered and feels threatened she will take appropriate action to defend herself and that could mean they'll hurl themselves at you and then start trying to chew on you.
"We're going to find seals in places they're not normally at and where people are."
Pups are abandoned about three weeks after birth but remain out of the water until they shed their downy, white coats.
Canadian Press

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