Just weeks after a wandering humpback whale briefly captured the hearts and minds of Montrealers, a seal made an appearance in Laval on Tuesday and Wednesday.
A video posted to social media shows the seal sunbathing on a floating dock at a marina in Laval, close to where the Mille Îles River joins the St. Lawrence River.
Pierre Lefrançois has been working at the Bo-Bi-No marina for 17 years and he says it’s a first.
“In the St. Lawrence we see them regularly but in the Mille Îles River it’s the first time,” he said, adding more than a few boaters were surprised.
“One nearly fell in the water he was so surprised,” Lefrançois recounted.
Marie-Ève Muller, spokesperson for the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM), confirmed that seal sightings are common in the St. Lawrence River.
“Almost every month we get reports of seals near Montreal, Laval or Varennes,” she said. “There usually it’s one individual and most of the time it’s a harbour seal.”
What makes this sighting a bit more special is the fact that it isn’t a harbour seal but a bearded seal.
“The bearded seal is usually a species that we find in the arctic … so Northern Canada, Russia, Norway,” Muller said adding that while they do venture into the St. Lawrence River they are usually spotted around Trois-Rivières, some 140 kilometres downstream from Montreal
“It’s a first to have a bearded seal in Laval,” Muller said.
Signs have gone up at the marina, warning people to keep a 50-metre distance from the animal.
“I know they are super cute, they are very intriguing but do your observation as far as you can from the seal,” Muller said.
“It is illegal to disturb it, it is illegal to feed it and illegal to try to push it back to the water.”
Muller explained that disturbing the seal could affect its ability to make the return journey home.
“When the seal is out of the water, it means it needs to rest,” she said. “They need to have space and calm around them to be able to rest and then take the long swim back home to the arctic.”
Human interactions could also force wildlife specialists to intervene.
“If people are too pushy, we might have to move the seal away,” Muller said. “It’s easier to move a seal than a whale but it’s not without dangers, managing wild animals always has risks.”
Furthermore, there’s no guarantee moving the animal would work.
“What we’ve seen often is that when we move a seal away, it comes back to where it has been taken from,” she said. “The best way to help is to keep your distance.”