SHENYANG, May 2 (Xinhua) — Bellies bulging skyward, a pod of spotted seals sunbathe on rocks in Liaodong Bay, northeast China’s Liaoning Province.
Enjoying top-notch national protection in China, the spotted seal is the only pinniped marine mammal to breed in Chinese waters.
Seals come to Liaodong Bay from cold high latitude waters each December, feed and rest in the area, and return north in May.
From January to March, about 200 cubs are born in the 10,000 square kilometer ice area of Liaodong Bay.
Seals have to overcome various challenges after birth. People sometimes find stranded people drifting with the ice caps on the shore, triggering surveillance, rescue and release work.
More than 100 spotted seals inhabit the Sandaogou area of Panjin City every year. Since 2012, Panjin has set up a protection station about a kilometer from the spotted seal gathering place to avoid disturbance from nearby fishing boats and tourists.
The sea ice near Sandaogou is melting in early March, and the cubs lying on the ice caps and unable to live long in the water will be put on the beach by their parents.
As these cubs are at risk of injury, members of the protection station team would patrol the shoreline daily, observe the growth of the seals and persuade fishing boats and tourists to stay away.
After years of persuasion, local fishermen gave up parts of their working areas for the spotted seals to rest, and they contacted the station if they spotted any injured or long-stranded seals.
“Unless there are special circumstances, such as the injured spotted seal or its invisible parents within sight, the rescue team will bring the pups back to rescue them. Human help is not an end. We will eventually let them return to nature,” said Wang Xiaobo, an official with the agriculture and rural affairs department of Panjin city.
“We rescued seven spotted seals in 2021. Three of them survived on their own, so they were directly released back into the sea. The other four were born prematurely and couldn’t feed,” he said. he said, adding that the population of spotted seals monitored in the Sandaogou area has exceeded 250 this year.
Seals in need of rescue are sent to the Liaoning Ocean and Fisheries Science Research Institute or an aquatic wildlife rescue center in Dalian city. There, they receive treatment and release training, including avoiding fishing nets and fishing boats, catching fish, and recognizing foreign objects.
The seals would be released back into the wild once they met the criteria. On May 10, 2021, 37 cubs were released into the sea in Dalian after being assessed to meet the release conditions.
“We did routine blood tests and biochemical tests for the seals and then checked for viruses that this type of animal might contract. All 37 seals met the standards for the assessment, so we released them all. together this time,” said Lu Zhichuang, a researcher at the research institute.
The city of Panjin has launched a Coastal Wetlands Restoration Project to gradually restore the 5,300-hectare mariculture pond to its original ecology, providing habitats for spotted seals and other marine life.
The spotted seal population in Liaodong Bay remains at around 2,000 while showing an increasing trend.