This Unique Seal Species is Taught to Carry Toy Guns For Show (Video)

Baikal seals basking in the sun (image: Sergey Gabdurakhmanov under Creative Commons http://www.flickr.com/photos/gabdurakhmanov/)
Baikal seals basking in the sun (image: Sergey Gabdurakhmanov under Creative Commons http://www.flickr.com/photos/gabdurakhmanov/)

“No words can describe the feeling that is left after meeting a living nerpa (Baikal Seal) somewhere in a quiet bay or near Ushkany Islands. The trustful, open look of the seal’s big clever eyes will charm everyone. For hours the animals can bask in the sun playing with their kin.”
Then there is this:
IN PHOTO: Seals dressed in military uniforms swim during a show marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two, at an aquatic park in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, Russia, May 9, 2015. Reuters/Evgeny Kozyrev
IN PHOTO: Seals dressed in military uniforms swim during a show marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two, at an aquatic park in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, Russia, May 9, 2015. Reuters/Evgeny Kozyrev

These Baikal seals, while not endangered, are unique in that they are the only fully fresh water pinniped species known to exist. They are fascinating animals in their own right, yet it is this show that brings them and the Aquatic Park in Irkutsk, Russia notoriety…no doubt you will laugh out loud at the absurdity.

According to the aquarium:

A pair of seals joined the entire Russian nation in the annual celebration of Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day, on May 8. This year, 2015, two seals staged a show wearing military outfits and holding toy weapons while performing tricks in the water.
The Baikal seals, named Winnie the Pooh and Laska, are from Irkutsk’s aquarium located in the Siberian town. The show featured them wearing military headgear and shooting on targets placed in the aquarium. ibtimes.com.au

The seals look healthy, and while the act is as kitschy as any I’ve ever seen, it is pretty clear that their lives would be even more sterile and dull in their pool without training – their trainer thinks the seals are ‘smarter than dolphins’, and if so it is an even more compelling reason not to keep them in those circumstances. By no stretch of the imagination do these conditions ‘resemble their wild habitat”.

Siberian Times reports that the seals are placed in an aquarium with conditions that resemble their wild habitat. They stay in 2-3-degrees Celsius aquariums much like the temperature in Lake Baikal. They also eat the same food they eat when in the wild.
Evgeniy Baranov, founder of the first seal circus in the world, told Siberian Times that the new show is an improvement of the tricks that the seals have learned previously and that these animals get better with practise. Baranov said he has worked with seals for more than 25 years and thought they are smarter than dolphins. ibtimes.com.au

But what does the public learn from these shows? I found little on the Baikal Seal Aquarium website, although that may be a problem with the English version. To get the facts on the seals’ life history I had to do a quick internet search.
Baikal-seals-on-rock
What is truly fascinating about these seals (sources: Seal Conservation Society, Science Blogs, Irkutsk.org, BWW.ir.ru) is how they are adapted to fill a unique ecological niche:

  • The Baikal seal, one of the world’s smallest pinnipeds, is in fact the only pinniped species that lives solely in freshwater. Individuals are also sometimes found wandering up the rivers surrounding the Lake, one seal having been found 400km upstream.Despite their small size, they are surprisingly long-lived, with males living to 52 and females to 56 (incidentally, Caspian seals are also long-lived, surviving to age 50). Further remarkable is that female Baikal seals continue to reproduce while in their fourth decade. They don’t begin to breed until they are around 20 years old.
  • They forage day and night, and vary their hunting strategy accordingly.
  • Most of their diet consists of a high fat fish found only in Lake Baikal – this fish is not commercially taken, and the seals actually help preserve other fish species by consuming these predatory fish:
  • The golomyankas – the big and the small species – live only in Baikal. Their size does not exceed 24 centimetres, they have no scales, and they are nacreous (mother-of-pearl) in colour and transparent. They contain up to 35 per cent of medicinal oil rich in vitamin A.

  • The golomyanka is the most numerous fish in Baikal, its resources amounting to about 150 thousand tons. However, in neither of its life stages does it swim in schools, so it is not included in the food-fish list. Old residents say that a long time ago, after storms, golomyankas were gathered alongside the shores and the fat was melted and used in treatments for rheumatism, atherosclerosis and for healing wounds that would not scab over for long.

 

  • One of the reason for [a] migration to the bays and shallows is for a ‘course’ of “self-treatment”. Here they feed mainly on the sandy big-headed sculpin whose intestines always contain differing amounts of sand or silt. The sand and silt builds up in the nerpa’s stomach and has an effect on the parasites (worms) forcing them to leave ulcerous pits in its stomach and leave the body in a mass with the faeces. It is specifically in the autumn that one can find such silted up stomachs in nerpa, cleaned of parasitic worms, with the wounds of ulcers healing and healed.
Babies are hunted for their white pelts.
Babies are hunted for their white pelts.
  • The hunting of young seals (“kumutkans”) is thought to be the main factor that led to a change in the population structure and a decrease in the reproductive success of the species in the 1980s. As well as the official hunt there is an increasing problem with poaching caused by weakening enforcement and rising prices for the fur of young seals. Fur hats made from seal fur cost approximately 700 rubles each. Undocumented kill has been estimated at 20-40% of the official kill.

 

  • There is a serious problem of pollution in Lake Baikal, research showing that organochlorines and other chemical pollutants build up through the food web in the Lake and accumulate in the seals as top-level predators.

&Do you think that the sheer absurdity of this particular show does anything to educate the public about Baikal seals?

Do you think this seal show helps the wild seals?

Yes
No
Somewhat

Quiz Maker

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Our Complex Relationship With Killer Whales Explained: You Will Want This Book

 
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“Recovering our humanity may be the real gift of the orcas, what they can teach us. It’s our choice whether to listen”. David Neiwert
In his latest book, Of Orcas and Men, What Killer Whales Can Teach Us author David Neiwert weaves together insights from scientists, cultural anthropologists, psychologists, writers, and artists all of whose lives have been touched in a meaningful way by killer whales.
The facts are presented clearly, and while Neiwert doesn’t flinch from recounting the truth of the woes we have heaped upon the whales and their environment, neither does he belabor the points.  He looks at what our ancient ancestors did that kept us in balance with nature, examines what we have done as our cultures evolved – and then he presents a strong case for re-aligning our priorities.

Photo Credit: David Neiwert
Photo Credit: David Neiwert

Neiwert has spent much of his free time over the last 25 years doing what many people who live in the region do – watching the orcas from shore or boats, planning vacations around whale watching – so his perspective is easy to relate to. And while some of his experiences at first seem enviably rare and personal, he makes it clear that anyone willing to make the effort to see the orcas will have their own unique and often thrilling experience.
It is in our nature to want to capture what captivates us – from a vase of flowers to big whales in small tanks, we want to hold tightly onto what is by its nature impermanent, and by so doing we take away the essential being of what we admire.
In the past, we really didn’t discriminate much – if we wanted something, we took it. If something was perceived to compete with our interests we did our best to wipe it off the planet. We have done both to killer whales.
Neiwert’s message is simply that we step back and consider what we are doing, that we understand that there is a difference between growing roses for our vases and breeding orcas for our amusement, that we look at their place in the natural world and take our lessons from them there. Humanity needs to (and may well be starting to) step outside of our own anthropocentric world view and to acknowledge that we are not the only intelligent beings on the planet, and by doing so we will feel our full humanity.
The book’s title is evocative of Steinbeck’s classic novel Of Mice and Men, a story about a search for deeper understanding of each other. Neiwert simply extends the bast theme to include the other intelligent species that share our planet.

In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other.
John Steinbeck in his 1938 journal entry

Of Orcas and Men is a book that belongs on everyone’s bookshelf, as both a basic primer on orcas and a thought provoking guide for readers who will feel empowered to take their own unique skills and viewpoints to make changes while there is still time.
Because, as Neiwert wrote, our very humanity may be at stake.
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David Neiwert is an investigative journalist and author based in Seattle. He is the senior editor of Crooks and Liars and has won a National Press Club award for his reportage on domestic terrorism. Photo Credit: AreJay West

Shocking Plans Reveal Motivation in Push for Sea Pens – It Is Brilliant!

 

Interconnecting sea pens around an island or peninsula.
Interconnecting sea pens around an island or peninsula.

Dr. Ingrid Visser and her colleagues have come up with a plan to house captive orcas that is nothing short of genius. It is ecologically sound, and would accommodate whales that are not candidates for release to the wild as well as those in the process of being rehabilitated for release.
The plan is stunningly simple and logical, yet incorporates every complex issue involved in maintaining the health of killer whales in a manner that reflects their need for space and stimulation.
It is awe inspiring, and shows what the captive industry could provide, if only they had the animal’s best interest in mind.
Design is built around an existing island.
Design is built around an existing island.

Medical pools are located at the central care station.
Medical pools are located at the central care station.

These illustrations are to scale – the small black dot in the circular pen and the square medical pools are adult orcas so it is easy to grasp how large these areas are relative to the animals.
Underwater tube would allow visitors to observe the orcas.
Underwater tube would allow visitors to observe the orcas.

The plan calls for public access and stresses education, funds generated by visitors and contributors would support the non-profit organization.
The buildings will be run with the help of blade-less wind turbines and solar power.
The buildings will be run with the help of blade-less wind turbines and solar power.

Contemporary ecologically sound facilities will incorporate solar and wind power in their energy profile.
Fullscreen capture 862015 113836 AM visser sea pen
These photos are all screen captures from a video posted on YouTube, taken at the Superpod 4 conference. The entire video is fascinating, but if you are just interested in the sea pens go to the 28 minute mark.
You will be amazed at what can be done to help rescued whales.