An arctic seal observed in Deschambault - DALTONHURD

An arctic seal observed in Deschambault

Another unusual sighting in the St. Lawrence River. This time, a bearded seal was observed Wednesday in Deschambault, on the north shore of the river. This pinniped normally lives in the Arctic, but a few sightings of stray individuals have been reported over the years.

The bearded seal, recognizable by its long whiskers, was photographed (the photo that accompanies this text) Wednesday morning while swimming near the wharf in Deschambault, a municipality located between Trois-Rivières and Quebec.

The animal seemed at first sight to be in good shape, but it is very far from its natural habitat. This species of seal normally lives in the Arctic, or along the Labrador coast. This individual therefore entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence, before continuing on its way to Deschambault.

“We see bearded seals in the river occasionally. They seem well adapted to life in fresh water, even for extended periods of time. Unless he is caught, there is no intervention necessary,” said veterinarian Stéphane Lair, director of the Quebec Center for Wild Animal Health.

Lost seals

Even if this type of observation is rare, the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Network (RQUMM) has identified over the years a few similar cases of individuals seen far from their natural habitat.

In 2020, a young bearded seal was notably observed in Laval. Other reported cases of unusual presence in the St. Lawrence are rather amusing. In 2013, a bearded seal took up residence in the marina of Sillery, in Quebec, in the middle of summer. An operation was therefore launched to relocate the animal, which was captured and then released off the coast of Tadoussac. It was hoped that he would find his way back to his natural environment. A few days later, the RQUMM received a call. The bearded seal was back in Sillery.

The RQUMM also received several calls for young hooded seals, called “blue backs”, which were in the Montreal area, particularly on Île Sainte-Hélène. An unusual situation, to say the least, since this species lives mainly in the waters around Newfoundland, and even in the North Atlantic.

In another case of a “blue back”, reported in Longueuil, passers-by had tried to feed the animal with chips, hot dogs and fries. The seal was finally euthanized, which is extremely rare.

Avoid disturbance

What explains the presence of young seals so far from their natural habitat? “In several species, juvenile individuals explore new habitats. It is a normal natural behavior, but which places the individual in front of new challenges. In some cases, the seal may also have a particular disease or condition that affects its ability to orient itself,” explains the RQUMM.

That does not mean that the bearded seal observed in Deschambault is in perdition. “A seal, regardless of its species, is not necessarily in danger by being in fresh water, outside of its natural habitat. However, he can become so if he is harassed by humans or if boats get too close to him, ”says the RQUMM.

The organization, which processes hundreds of declarations concerning the sighting of marine mammals each year, therefore invites citizens not to disturb a seal. “If you see the bearded seal or any other seal, the best thing you can do to help it is to keep your distance. It must not be repelled in the water. Thus, the seal will be able to rest and regain the strength necessary to undertake the journey that will bring it back to its natural habitat. »

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