A rare black seal pup named “Badger” was bullied and abandoned by his seal family and mates due to his unusually dark color, according to veterinary experts at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary at Gweek, Cornwall, in the U.K.
The vets said they believed that the black seal pup, found abandoned with injuries at 2-weeks-old, in Porthellick, Isles of Scilly, earlier in the month, was attacked, injured, and then abandoned by his mates because of his rare jet black color.
According to Tamara Cooper, supervisor of the animal care team at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, where Badger the black seal is recuperating, he appeared physically and emotionally traumatized by the experience of bullying and abandonment by his family and mates. He had visible injuries, including an ulcerated eye and multiple body scars believed to have been inflicted by other seals that rejected and attacked him because of his dark skin pigmentation.
“When he arrived he had an infection and was struggling to feed himself. He was very shaken up and we had to put him on a course of antibiotics and ensure that we gave him lots of TLC. Soon the pup started to recover and we discovered that he was a lovely animal.”
Although, it amounts to anthropomorphizing license to say that Badger suffered a “racist” attack, it is known that animals — especially social animals — often discriminate against mates with unusual pigmentation, coat markings, or appearance.
Jet black pigmentation is rare among seals. Most seal pups range in pigmentation from white to light grey. But according to Cooper, the incidence of black pigmentation is higher among seal populations in the northern parts of the British Isles, such as in Scotland, compared with seal populations in the south of England.
“When he moulted his infant coat the coat beneath was inky black. Black pups are very rare in the south of England and are more usually found among the Scottish population. We haven’t had a black pup in our care since 2007 so we love being able to have this opportunity to care for him.”
Scientific studies show that seals and cetaceans lack one of two types of cones needed for color vision. But recent studies show that although seals are color blind, they are able to discriminate colors based on brightness alone. Scientists have proposed a mechanism by which seals are able to discriminate color through brightness by contrasting signals from cones and rods.
A new study by Christine Scholtyssek and colleagues, titled “Why do seals have cones? Behavioral evidence for color-blindness in harbor seals,” published in the journal Springer, concluded in its abstract that seals have even better developed color discrimination powers than previously suspected.
“Earlier studies underestimated the brightness discrimination abilities of these animals, so that they could have discriminated colors using brightness only. Using a psychophysical discrimination experiment, we showed that a harbor seal can solve a color discrimination task by means of brightness discrimination alone. Performing a series of experiments in which two harbor seals had to discriminate the brightness of colors, we also found strong evidence for purely scotopic (rod-based) vision at light levels that lead to mesopic (rod–cone-based) vision in other mammals.”
Animal carers at the sanctuary named the black seal pup “Badger,” after the First Comics superhero, Cooper explained.
“We chose the theme of superheroes for the names of all our rescued pups this winter, Badger just seemed the perfect choice for our all-black newcomer.”
The black seal pup is currently recovering under expert care and has been moved from the intensive care section at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary to the nursery pools.
He is expected to have fully recovered by early spring, according to the Daily Mail.
The Cornish Seal Sanctuary, located on the banks of the Helford River, near Gweek Village in Cornwall, England, was founded by Ken Jones in 1958, and is owned by Merlin Entertainments. The sanctuary takes care of injured seal pups recovered from the wild.
[Images: via Daily Mail]