The small Canadian town of Roddickton-Bide Arm is teeming with dozens of seals that have wandered inland after winter weather cut off their access to the ocean.
The town's mayor told USA TODAY on Thursday that approximately 40 stranded seals recently have been living among the town's 999 people. Sheila Fitzgerald said she has sought help from Canadian authorities to help the animals find their way back to the sea.
"They're so cute," she said, noting that the story had "stolen the hearts of so many people."
But for many residents, the experience is also heartbreaking, she said. To her, it's obvious the animals are struggling and suffering.
Fitzgerald says that two seals have died this week, in what she believes is a traffic accident. The animals blend in with sand and snow covered roads she said.
She said that the town has seen seals before - it's relatively common for a handful of seals to get disoriented after a local cove freezes over, disorienting the seals and temporarily causing them wander into the nearby town.
But having this many seals get lost for this long is unprecedented, she said.
The (Newfoundland and Labrador) Telegram reports that the seals began showing up in the town, located on the island of Newfoundland, last week. The publication, citing a Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans spokesperson, says the harp seals were likely confused and searching for the ocean after strong winds or a freeze cut off their access to water and left them disoriented.
Living with the animals has proven to be a challenge for the town, where most people are on a first-name basis, according to Fitzgerald.
The animals are protected by law and should not be approached. And their local food sources are limited, making it imperative they find their way back to the ocean.
"You don't want this to go on too long ... they're not going to last all winter here," she said.
Fitzgerald said the town is working with Canadian authorities to relocate the seals.
She says that the seals are common enough in the town that residents likely to encounter one when they leave for a walk or a drive.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: A tiny town has been overrun with 'cute' but confused seals