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Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Folks, today I`m bringing what I believe to be one of the strangest animal stories from Hong Kong and we (Jon and I) have found quite a few oddities from the former Colony.

The Hong Kong Telegraph of June 12th 1914 mentioned seals that “were said to have appeared” so I thought hey, this looks interesting, so today I typed in “seals” into the Hong Kong newspaper database and came up with 100 hits, one of which read as follows,(I quote in its entirety from The Hong Kong Telegraph Extra April 17th 1914 page one):


The tiger story followed by a tale of the Sea

Another animal story is going the rounds in yachting circles just now. Some animal-certainly it was not of the order of fishes, says our informant-which is thought to be a seal was seen between the Soko Group (1) and Cheung Chau Island on Monday (2) afternoon.Seen by the Telegraph, the gentleman who saw the animals, which he is of the opinion were seals, put the number that he actually saw at about eighteen, all making in one direction.

His attention was first called to them by his sailing boy on his yacht who remarked on the number of “sea-dogs” or “sea-pigs” that being the translation of the Chinese term,that there were in the water. Our informant looked but could see little at first because the animals were only just breaking water with their noses to obtain air, this being accompanied by a hissing noise. Then a small one jumped into the air and it was at once seen that, whatever they were, the passers by were not fish. Further confirmation was to be found when one of them broke water and raised his head so that he could be easily seen. His face was not unlike that of a cat with drooping whiskers over the mouth. He then dived and showed a large portion of his back as he went down;in fact,roughly speaking, five feet of his body was exposed. In all there were four persons who saw these animals – two Chinese and two Europeans and they are all convinced that they were of the nature of seals. That night the yacht was anchored in the locality and the hissing could be heard all night. However after passing Adamastor Rock (3) no further traces of them were seen.

In answer to a query as to whether they were not porpoises, our informant said they were not. They had not the colour of the porpoise, but were black, as black as the Chinese pig.

Continuing, he informed us that if indeed they were what he suspected them to be, it would be a serious look out for the fisheries near Cheung Chau, for seals were voracious devourers of fish and could make sore havoc in the fishing grounds there. A question as to whether seals would be found in this latitude drew the response that the yachtsman had known of them as far south as California [this is a rather obtuse statement. California is around 40 degrees North,Hong Kong is about the same latitude as the Tropic of Cancer i.e. c.22 N-R]

There certainly appears to be a seal native to the latitude of California. It is spoken of in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, as is (?) a sea lion. There is the (?) California or Eared Seals and the Macrohinus a species of which, the M.Lenoina,(4) also found on the Californian coast, tending to show that the appearance of some member or other (?) of the seal family in these regions should not be impossible for geographical reasons. (5)

If anyone has the time and inclination to look through The Marine Observer journal from whenever it started there may be more references to South China Sea seals, who knows?

1 The Soko Group-islands south of Lantau island. Cheung Chau is to the west-south-west of Hong Kong
2 April 13th 1914
3 I couldn`t locate this.
4 Elephant seal
5 Hong Kong Telegraph Extra April 17th 1914 p.1

EDITOR'S NOTE: There are four species of seal known from China, but all are confined to northern waters.


Dale Drinnon said...

This IS interesting. I had recently had a news item posted about seals caught in Vietmam, and I had known vaguer rumours of them being found in Indonseia, although it was thought to be unusual in both locations.

Ivan Sanderson in Living Mammals of the World spoke of an unclassified seal in the Indian Ocean, which he thought was a sort of a Monk seal, and it was supposed to be seen to the South of India and on the small atolls of that area.

Richard Muirhead said...

I did look up "sea dog" and "sea pig" on the Hong Kong newspaper web site but found nothing,but I want to follow up that lead.