PICTOU ISLAND - The population of Pictou Island skyrocketed this winter with the birth of thousands of grey seals.
Mike Hammill, a marine mammal biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said Tuesday that about 4,000 seals were pupped on the tiny island between January and February.
“The pupping season is finished since they are normally born in January,” he said. “The pups are now starting to disperse.”
The vast majority were on the shores of Pictou Island, but a few adults and pups were spotted on ice in local waters. He added in the winter months there is an average of 12,000 seals in the local waters which would include adults and pups.
Grey seals nurse their pups for about two weeks and can reach a weight of about 50 kg before weaning. Hammill said the adults leave the pups after this to fend for themselves so they tend to lose weight, shed their white coats and enter the water looking for food.
Fish is the main staple of their diet and they tend to like the living conditions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Hammill estimates there are about 50,000 grey seals in the gulf and 424,000 in Atlantic Canada. Grey seals have a lifespan of up to 40 years.
DFO recently sent out a reminder for people to keep their distance if they happen to come across a seal on land. While seals may look cute, they are wild animals and should be left alone, says DFO. They may react aggressively if they are cornered or if they believe they are being threatened. Seals can cause serious injuries requiring medical attention. If you encounter a seal, do not approach it and keep children and pets away.
“Grey seals are always in a bad mood and they will bite,” said Hammill.
If the seal is a risk to public safety by being near a house, school, business or the road contact the department’s nearest Conservation and Protection Office. After hours and on weekends, please call 1-800-565-1633.
DFO said it is illegal to disturb seals under the Marine Mammals Regulations. It is also illegal to harvest seals without a licence.