Wildlife sightings are one of the perks of going on a hike through the woods. Depending on where you are, you know what kind of fauna to expect: birds chirping, squirrels scurrying through the canopy, maybe an encounter with some deer, etc. One thing you don't expect to find, regardless of where you're hiking, is a seal pup wiggling through the bush.
But that's exactly what one Swedish hiker recently encountered: a harp seal pup, alone, in a forest. No doubt it was the surprise of a lifetime. After a probable double-check, a ferocious rub of the eyes and a pinch on the cheek, the hiker immediately phoned in the sighting to local authorities.
"A somewhat confused person called and said he was out walking in the woods where he had found a seal pup. I thought he was joking at first," said Uppsala police inspector Henrik Pederson, according to a report by Phys.org.
It was certainly no joke. Hunter Robert Sandefors, the hiker who found the pup, added that the animal had clearly been traveling alone, since no other tracks were left in the snow — just the seal's own. In other words, it's unlikely that the seal could have been kidnapped and carelessly dropped off in the woods by a person. The pup also couldn't have been led astray by a lost adult seal, such as its mother. Somehow, someway, it appeared as though this baby seal had embarked on a harrowing journey from the sea to the forest entirely on its own.
The distance that the pup had traversed was also remarkable, especially given its age and mode of locomotion (wiggling along the ground). The animal was found about 4 miles from the nearest body of water. It would have had to travel over about 2 miles of frozen sea ice and an additional 2 miles through the forest to get to where it was found. And that's just if it had traveled in a straight line.
"He must have gotten separated from his mother and gotten lost and gone in the wrong direction," Sandefors told Swedish Radio.
As remarkable as this seal pup's journey must have been, it's actually not entirely unprecedented. Mummified seal remains have been found as far as 41 miles inland and 5,900 feet above sea level in Antarctica's Dry Valleys. It's likely that these seals had become disoriented and wandered inland in a hopeless search for the sea. Also, seal pups separated from their mothers have been known to embark on some incredible sea journeys. For instance, three pups were documented going on an epic 350-mile adventure early in 2011 after being swept out to sea in a storm.
For a seal pup to wander so far into a foreign terrain like a forest, however, might be a first. It's certainly something Sandefors will never forget.
The pup found by Sandefors was eventually released on the banks of the nearby Dalälven river (which runs into the sea), where it was witnessed swimming away.
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