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They've set their seal on seal protection

Updated: 2024-05-02 09:19 ( China Daily )
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Tian Jiguang takes photos of a spotted seal in Panjin, Liaoning province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

All baby animals are cute. Seal pups are no exception.

One such pup, a spotted seal pup, about 20 days old, was found on an offshore oil extraction platform in Panjin, Liaoning province, by nearby residents in late February. Among those who rescued the cute, but initially angry and somewhat aggressive, pup was Li Yue, of the Fisheries Law Enforcement Command team, and volunteer Tian Jiguang.

"The seal pup was found with a fishing net entangled around its neck. Seals, even seal pups, have a strong temper. So when we approached it to remove the fishing net from its neck, it thought we would harm it and turned aggressive like an agitated dog. But the more it struggled, the more the net tightened around its neck. Eventually, it realized that we meant no harm, and allowed us to remove the net from around its neck," said Tian, founder of Panjin Wetland Protection Association.

Spotted seals' intelligence is roughly equivalent to that of a four-year-old child and even young seals can survive on their own in the wild, Tian said. But since the rescued pup was just about three weeks old and hence wouldn't have survived the harsh environment of the open sea without its mother, it was not released into the sea.

Spotted seals are relatively shy, difficult to approach and generally solitary, though they are gregarious and form large groups during pupping and molting seasons when they haul out on ice or on land when there is lack of ice, which nowadays is often the case. Perhaps that's why the pup was aggressive when approached, Tian said.

"We took care of it for a day, and then sent it to the Liaoning Ocean and Fisheries Science Research Institute in Dalian for treatment and examination. Only after we were sure the pup had developed the ability to survive in the wild was it returned to the sea," said Li, captain of the FLEC team in Panshan county, Panjin. Li generally rescues several spotted seals from the sea or shore every year.

Over the past decade, Li and his teammates have been patrolling the resting areas of spotted seals in the Liaodong Bay by boat. "There are five landing points that spotted seals favor in the bay area. The seals at different locations belong to different extended families," Li said.

He is familiar with every group of spotted seals in the Liaohe River Estuary National Nature Reserve in Panjin; he knows the heads of the families and those with scars that have been wintering in the bay area for years.

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