Ginger albino seal may need new home as it faces rejection from colony

Other pups have not been paying much attention to ‘Ugly Duckling’

Liam James
Thursday 10 September 2020 18:59 BST
Albino seals like Ugly Duckling (pictured) have a very low chance of reaching adulthood
Albino seals like Ugly Duckling (pictured) have a very low chance of reaching adulthood (Vladimir Burkanov)

An extremely rare albino seal facing a lonely life may need to be rehomed by biologists who fear it will be rejected by its colony.

Blue eyes and ginger fur set the young pup apart from the rest of the rookery in Siberia's Sea of Okhotsk and researchers say these rare features could be enough for it to be shunned by other seals.

The chances of an albino seal like the “Ugly Duckling” – as it has been named by researchers – being born are one in 100,000, experts say.  

Around one in 100,000 seals are born albino (Vladimir Burkanov)

Albino seals have very poor eyesight and their chances of growing up and breeding are low to nil, according to conservation researchers on the island of Tyuleny.

There was another seal, born on the same small island with similar features a decade ago, that was rejected by its rookery and left facing certain death in the wild.  

Named Nafanya, the outcast pup was rescued and taken to an aquarium on Russia's Black Sea Coast, where it gained an enthusiastic online following.  

A decade on, researchers are waiting to see whether or not Ugly Duckling will need to be similarly rescued.

Vladimir Burkanov, a marine biologist who is part of a team conducting conservation research on Tyluney and the surrounding Kuril Islands, said there is hope for the rare pup despite some signs of rejection from other seals.

“This pup looks well fed and was very active, so its mother clearly gave it plenty of milk," Mr Bukanov said.

Ugly Ducking appears well fed and active (Vladimir Burkanov)

“Other seals don't pay too much attention to it in a somewhat worrying manner, so something is not quite right with it. But it’s not getting chased or bitten.” 

Mr Bukanov shared the tale of another known albino seal in the nearby Bering Sea that defied the odds and has now grown to be a mature bull at five or six years old.  

The seal had not been wholly accepted however: Mr Burkanov said it was left out of the observed breeding season and relegated to “Bachelor’s Rock”. 

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