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Seal found scooting through P.E.I. neighbourhood gets ride in police cruiser

CHARLOTTETOWN — A flippered forager was taken away in the back of a police cruiser Sunday morning after it was found wandering the streets of Charlottetown.
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CHARLOTTETOWN — A flippered forager was taken away in the back of a police cruiser Sunday morning after it was found wandering the streets of Charlottetown.

Lillian Reynolds had just put the kettle on when a dark figure shuffling down the sidewalk prompted her to stop everything and call 911.

"I said: 'There's a seal going down the road!'" Reynolds said in an interview Tuesday. "You know how they move with their little flippers going, on their tummies. He was just motoring past the house."

Reynolds lives in a residential part of Charlottetown with wide, quiet streets, well-spaced houses and expansive lawns. The nearest water is the Hillsborough River, almost a kilometre away, she said. "He had a whole schoolyard to travel across, and he had a busy road ... and a few blocks to get up to my house. 

"He would have still been going if the officers didn't get him."

Worried the seal would become a slippery speed bump, Reynolds hung up the phone and ran out the door. "I walked with him and I was talking to him, and he stopped to look up at me, and you know how seals make the noise — arr, arr, arr," she said. "And then he just kept going!"

The little critter seemed to be on a mission, Reynolds said, adding that she was surprised how fast it could move. By the time police arrived, the seal had scrambled up a snowbank in front of someone's house, she said. 

The owner came out with a tarp and a tussle ensued. "The snowbank was deep and we're all up to our knees, trying to not wipe out totally, and trying to get this seal into this green tarp thing," she said. 

"He put up a good fight," Const. Justin Drake said in an interview Tuesday. "I mean, how do you grab a hold of him? There's no neck, there's no arms." 

Eventually, Drake said, he wrangled the animal into the back of his cruiser and drove away. "I've had a lot of people in the back of my car and he was probably one of the best passengers I've ever had," he said, laughing. "It was certainly a different kind of day."

The seal was "released without incident" back into the water a few hours later, Drake said.

Mike Hammill, a marine mammal scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said Reynolds's visitor was a grey seal no more than six weeks old — a teenager in human years, he said. Grey seals have big teeth, Hammill added, and they're not nice. 

"I'm surprised (they) didn't get bitten," he said in an interview Tuesday.

Though Reynolds said she had never seen a seal in her neighbourhood, Hammill said the animals get all over the place this time of year. There's "almost no ice" in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Hammill said, adding that seals who would normally give birth on the ice are coming in closer to land. 

Reynolds's visitor was likely born on a bit of ice clinging to a nearby shore and then wandered inland once its mother let it go, he said.

It's no wonder seals get lost and picked up by police, Hammill said. "They can only raise their head maybe a foot off the ground.

"Try and get on your tummy and just see, lift your head up ... that changes your whole perspective on a room."

— Written by Sarah Smellie in St. John's.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press

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