Grey seals converge on secluded areas of strait to give birth

Sherry Martell
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PICTOU ISLAND - More than a thousand grey seals are congregating on the eastern shore of Pictou Island and other secluded areas in the Northumberland Strait.
A spokesman with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans said the lack of ice floes in the strait this year is causing the grey seals to seek suitable areas along shorelines to give birth.
"The grey seals will use the ice if it is there and if not they will concentrate in secluded areas where it is appropriate for them to give birth," said DFO spokesman Michel Therien.
Groups of gray seals have also been spotted on Henry Island, St. Paul Island and islands in St. George's Bay.
According to historical data on the Environment Canada website ice levels in eastern Canada are the lowest they have been since 2006 when a tidal surge drowned more than 1,500 pups off Pictou Island.
Therien said scientists are visiting areas where seals are pupping and department conservation and protection officers are monitoring the herds to ensure they are not being harassed.
"We are advising the public not to approach them, mostly to prevent any accidents," said the spokesman. "Serious wounds could be inflicted by seals."
The mother seals, which can grow as heavy as 800 pounds, are very protective of their young.
On Thursday, DFO officials will be conducting an aerial inspection of Northumberland shorelines to determine where the grey seals are congregating and how many are present.
Pups are normally abandoned by their mothers about three weeks after birth and remain out of the water while they shed their downy white coats.
On Monday, a young seal that wandered away from the shoreline, was found on the road near the Pictou rotary.
DFO officials trapped the animal using nets and released it back into its natural habitat.
Anyone caught harassing grey seals taking refuge along shorelines could be prosecuted under Marine Mammal Regulations.
The grey seal population in the Northumberland Strait and the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence is about 300,000.

smartell@trurodaily.com

Organizations: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada

Geographic location: PICTOU ISLAND, Henry Island, St. George's Bay Eastern Canada Southern Gulf

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