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Even went for the hand first!

"Rude" seal pulls girl off dock for a swim

Anupreet Sandhu Bhamra

Vancouver — From Thursday's Globe and Mail Last updated on Thursday, Sep. 03, 2009 03:06AM EDT

A five-year-old girl who was yanked off a dock and pulled under the water by a seal is a little frightened and nursing puncture wounds to her hand but will absolutely go back into the water, said her father.

All Caleigh Cunning wanted to know was why the seal pulled her in. Her father, Mike Cunning, told her the seal wanted her to go for a swim.

“She accepts that the seal wanted her to go for a swim. However, she thinks that it was rude of the seal to not ask first,†Mr. Cunning said after taking her to the hospital.

Caleigh was standing on a dock at west Vancouver's Thunderbird Marina on Tuesday night when a seal jumped from the water, grabbed her by the hand and pulled her in. Her father, who was cleaning fish, had turned away for a brief moment.

Mr. Cunning heard the splash and thought his daughter had slipped into the water. For a moment, he thought it was okay since Caleigh was wearing a life jacket and had taken swimming lessons.

But when she didn't surface, he knew there was a problem. He ran over to where she had been, but by the time he got there, Caleigh had popped up.

Mr. Cunning said his daughter was probably under water for a few seconds.

When Mr. Cunning pulled her from the water, she was crying and had large puncture wounds to her hand.

“She was crying and saying, ‘Daddy, Daddy, the seal,' †Mr. Cunning said.

His neighbour, Trevor Shields, watched the seal take Caleigh into the water. He said everything happened within seconds.

“I can't believe it happened,†Mr. Shields said.

Earlier, Caleigh had been feeding the seals farther down the dock, said Mr. Shields. She might have had food residue on her hand, he said.

Fred McDonald, manager of the Thunderbird Marina, said seals in the marina are accustomed to grabbing fish from the docks.

“They are pretty good at moving around,†he said, adding this was the first time he had heard of a seal grabbing a child.

What happened to Caleigh demonstrates why marine mammal regulations under the Fisheries Act are being amended, said Paul Cottrell, the marine mammal co-ordinator with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Laws will be put in place next year that will make feeding seals illegal.

“Feeding marine mammals is not something that we want to happen,†Mr. Cottrell said.

“Feeding them directly from your hand is definitely a no-no.â€

Mr. Cottrell said it is very likely that when the seal grabbed the girl, it thought it was getting a meal from her. He suspects it was a harbour seal, which can grow as big as a black bear.

He said DFO is working with fishing marinas to get them to persuade fishermen not to throw back the remains of fish they've cleaned. That way, marine mammals will be less reliant on humans for food.

With reports from The Canadian Press

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