Don’t touch the seal pups, if you are visiting Sidney Island, insists Parks Canada.
Michael Janssen, acting resource conservation manager at Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, said during the summer months seal pups are often found along key shoreline locations, waiting for their mothers, who may forage for food for up to one week at a time before returning to their young.
“Seal pups may appear to be sick or distressed, even when they are in good health. For example, seal pups can sometimes have uneven breathing, nasal discharge, weeping eyes and whiny, bleeping sounds,” he said.
If visitors came across them, they should maintain their distance for the benefit of themselves and the animals, said Janssen, echoing the message Parks Canada has been delivering through signage and through staff on the ferry that connects Sidney with the island.
“If a seal pup is spotted alone in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, it is important to maintain a minimum of 100 metres of distance from seal pups to reduce their stress levels and to avoid contact with disease or bacteria they may carry,” said Janssen. Humans should not approach, handle or otherwise disturb the seal pup as “interference with the seal pup often results in abandonment.”
Such a move could also be costly. It is prohibited for unauthorized people to touch, disturb, remove or possess wildlife from a national park and doing so can result in fines up to a maximum of $1 million or charges being laid with any potential prison term not exceeding one year.
Visitors should also keep dogs on their leashes to avoid negative interactions with the animals, said Janssen.
Visitors can report any observed wounds or injuries to the Parks Canada Dispatch (1-877-852-3100), any Parks Canada staff or the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Team (604-258-SEAL).
The park doesn’t record the number of calls received or monitor the population.
“Gulf Islands National Park Reserve is home to a vibrant coastal ecosystem, where natural processes are continually underway,” said Janssen. “Seal pups have a high mortality rate and serve as an important food source to a variety of other species such as transient killer whales and birds such as ravens, crows, eagles and turkey vultures. Although it can be difficult to witness these natural cycles at work, national parks are wild places where the survival and death of animals is part of a healthy ecosystem.”
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