Russia rehab center saving baby seals

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (CBS) -- A St. Petersburg seal rehabilitation center opened a year ago at the popular seaside resort of Repino is rescuing and treating seals who suffer from climate change and pollution and reintroducing them into the wild.

Vyacheslav Alexeyev, one of the two staff members of the rehab center, says they have to fight for the life of every animal they receive.

"We really respect this animal because he has managed to survive. He was badly covered in oil by-products, and there was a high probability that he would die from oil intoxication. But he survived. Plus when he got here he was either newborn or 2-3 days old, he is emotionally very attached to people, which creates a big problem for us. We will have to specially work with him to detach him from people," said Alexeyev after struggling to hold few days-old baby seal tight enough to feed him through a tube.

The seal, who arrived in the center on March 15, was called Kruzensthern after a ship which spotted him on a thin ice.

Most of the animals, mainly Baltic ringed seals or grey seals, get to the center thanks to local residents.

"People who walk along the seashore find exhausted, weak or wounded animals, call us or '01' (emergency services), and we go to the location, " said Alexeyev.

Due to an unusually warm winter, the center is crowded now as never before.

Last year only five seals underwent rehabilitation at the hands of Alexeyev and his colleague Yelena Andrievskaya, but this year there are already 28 animals.

"When they get here - to put it boldly - they are dystrophic. They want to eat badly, and no matter how much we feed them, they always ask for more," Alexeyev said.

Newly-arrived seals are placed in quarantine first, then they are moved to a separate enclosure, after which they are moved to a pool in order to get used to water and to learn how to catch fish.

Alexeyev and Andrievskaya have been working on rehabilitating seals since 2007 and have rescued and released more than 20 animals into the wild since then.

The center, where they work at present, is located at the water purification facilities of St. Petersburg water authority - the company which is the main sponsor of their project.


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