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Seal spotted swimming in southern St. Lawrence near spa

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On Sunday morning, those near the water or at the Bota Bota spa in Montreal may have noticed an unusual visitor, as a seal was spotted.

The Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM) confirmed that what appeared to be an adult harbour seal was spotted between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m.

Patrick Weldon is part of GREMM's intervention program (RQUMM) and said seals regularly appear outside of their usual range and that the RQUMM receives reports of seals venturing upstream from the St. Lawrence Estuary, which is their usual habitat.

"Occasionally, some individuals, often juveniles, venture further up the St. Lawrence, and even into other rivers," he said. "Their presence in freshwater is not unusual, but rather infrequent. Harbour seals (like the one spotted in Montreal), adapt fairly well to freshwater, but as they find themselves in a different environment to which they are accustomed, it is important to adopt good cohabitation practices with these animals."

Weldon said that in June and July, a number of young seals were spotted upstream of Quebec City in freshwaters.

Young boys spotted a seal in Kahnawake in August of last year, and a bearded seal visited a Laval marina in 2020.

Weldon said freshwater is not a problem for seals, but that being in an urban area like Montreal can increase the chances of encounters with humans.

Those who spot a seal should do the following:

  • Observe from afar; keep your distance (at least 100 metres) so that the seal can rest and move about freely.
  • Report its presence to the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network (QMMERN) at 1-877-722-5346. The network will then follow up on the case and collect crucial data for scientific research partners.
  • It is normal to see seals out of the water. Do not attempt to coax it back into the water or spray it; this is not necessary.
  • It is unlawful to handle a seal, force it back into the water or interact with it in any way.
  • Do not attempt to feed it. Its survival depends on its ability to feed itself and capture fresh prey.
  • If you are on board a boat, be extra cautious to avoid colliding with or approaching the seal.
  • Caution! A seal is capable of moving quickly and can be unpredictable. This powerful wild animal can bite and transmit disease.
  • Keep dogs on a leash. A free-roaming canine might approach the seal, increasing the animal’s stress levels and provoking aggressive reactions that might cause injury to the seal or your pet. Seals and dogs can also spread disease. 

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