Rescued spotted seals sent back into the wild

Updated: Jan 4, 2024 By Zhang Xiaomin in Dalian, Liaoning China Daily Print
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A spotted seal about to be released in Liaoning province. CHINA DAILY

Twenty-three rescued spotted seals were released into the Bohai Sea off Liaoning province on Dec 12 after being trained for release into the wild.

"They have reached the release standard after wild training," said Tian Jiashen, an associate researcher with the Liaoning Ocean and Fisheries Science Research Institute.

"This is a suitable time and location to release them, as it enhances their chances of successful re-wilding and reintegrating into the wild population," he said.

Near the release site in Lushunkou district, Dalian, lies Huping Island, one of the four major haul-out sites — a place where seals leave the water and rest — for spotted seals in China. It accommodates about 200 spotted seals every year.

Under first-class national protection in China, the spotted seal is the only pinniped marine mammal to breed in Chinese waters. Every November, they come to Liaodong Bay from cold northern waters and go back in May.

According to Tian, each of the 23 spotted seals was tagged with an identification code to minimize the risk of recapture and being illegally caught and traded. Four of the seals were fitted with satellite tracking markers to support conservation and scientific research efforts.

The spotted seals were illegally poached and sold in various parts of the country. They were rescued by law enforcement agencies and transferred to the fisheries authorities. After receiving wild training from professional research institution staff that was organized by fisheries authorities, they developed the necessary skills to survive in the wild.

The release of the spotted seals was organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security, and the Liaoning Provincial People's Government and hosted by the Dalian Municipal People's Government.

Since 1992, when the provincial-level Dalian Spotted Seal Reserve was established, rescue and release work has been conducted every year. The reserve was upgraded to national level in 1997.

In recent years, Dalian has been expanding the core area of the national spotted seal nature reserve and implementing measures such as fishing bans and breeding and release programs to increase food resources for the seals.

Special law enforcement operations are also conducted during winter to safeguard the seals' migration and breeding.

Lu Zhichuang, deputy director of the Liaoning Ocean and Fisheries Science Research Institute, expressed confidence in the success of the conservation efforts.

"Our investigations in recent years indicate a stable and gradual recovery trend in the spotted seal population," he said "The protection is relatively effective. With the arrival of spring each year, stranded or orphaned seal pups always receive the necessary assistance."

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