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Phoca strikes back! 
Harbour seals attack BC swimmers

CP Wire
Sun 19 Aug 2001
By James Clarke

TEXADA ISLAND, B.C. (CP) - The seal that bit Tyrone Critchley on the
heel and dragged him underwater, shaking him before releasing him, had
dull teeth.  But Critchley, 16, said that was cold comfort.

``I was freaking,'' he conceded in an interview.

``I swallowed a bunch of water and I was just going nuts, screaming, throwing my arms around and kicking as hard as I could. It dragged me down a second time and I just ripped my foot out of its mouth and headed for shore.''

Aggressive seals are making life miserable for swimmers off the shores of B.C.'s tranquil Texada Island. Texada has about 1,500 regular residents and is the largest of the Gulf Islands, just a short ferry ride from the community of Powell River on B.C.'s mainland.

The island and the emerald green waters surrounding it are a popular
tourist destination.

Critchley, whose family has called the island home since 1995, was the first person to be attacked by a seal this summer.

Ten days later, a woman from Gibsons, B.C., was sitting in a kayak near
the shore when a seal tipped her boat and latched onto her arm, pulling
her under.

The grey spotted harbour seal punctured the skin on her left arm.

``She looked like she'd seen a ghost,'' said Critchley, who was there when it happened.

``She wouldn't go near the water after that.'' His father believes the seals just want to play.

``On a hot day, when there's a lot of swimmers in the water, you can see the seals out there, lots of them, just bobbing around the water watching,'' said Ray Critchley, a stone carver.

``The other thing we need to remember, though, is that they were here long before we showed up. This is their home.''

Locals say the woman from Gibsons was the sixth swimmer in the past two
years to have a close encounter with seals.

They say the seals regularly run at divers or hurl themselves onto small
boats.

``It's been going on for years and it's time to start doing something with the seals,'' said one resident.

The area has gained a reputation because of the attacks, said Don Radford, director of resource management for Fisheries Canada Pacific Region.

``There's a large population of seals there and it's a popular destination in the summer months, but what's important here is that people need to treat seals for what they are and that is large marine predators.

``In that context they're like wolves or bears, and we suggest that people need to be really, really careful when they're around them.''

People should keep at least 100 metres away, minimize noise and sudden
movements, and retreat slowly when close to a seal, said Radford.

Also avoid coming between the seal and shore, and don't try to separate
a mother from her pups, he added.

A 1998 aerial survey showed about 127,000 seals living in B.C. waters.

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