Leave our lost seal alone, say smitten Japanese

A lost seal that stole Japanese hearts made another splash yesterday when rescuers tried to snatch it from its adopted home in one of the country's most polluted rivers.

Tama-chan, a bearded seal, became a celebrity when it appeared last year in the Tama river, more than 600 miles from its Arctic habitat. But amusement turned to anger yesterday when a citizens' group concerned about Tama-chan's welfare joined four animal rescuers from the US in an attempt to return it to the northern Sea of Okhotsk.

Four divers plunged into the river in the suburb of Yokohama. They failed to snare the seal but dozens of residents gathered on the shore in protest. Police were called to the scene.Government experts decided that Tama-chan should be left in the river unless it was taken ill or injured.