CHEERS is dedicated to the general well-being of harbor seals and to vigorous enforcement of applicable law for their protection. Alerts will be posted here of documented instances of continued disturbance or threats to harbor seal safety and habitat; Cheers will be posted when new efforts have been made to extend protection.
updated 11.16.16

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After a two-year study to reduce the protection status of Phoca vitulina in the Hokkaido area from "vulnerable" to "near threatened", Japan's Environment Ministry has begun a capture program to reduce the number of "trouble-making" seals. Initiated in June 2016, it aims to reduce the seal population around eastern Hokkaido by 20% in the next three years. Fishing interests say that seals steal salmon from fixed nets. These are the only Japanese waters where the relatively rare animals are found, and when they were classified as "threatened" in 1998, their numbers had plummeted to as low as 150 individuals. Estimates now are up to 1000, as a result of earlier conservation efforts.
[ Photo courtesy Kushiro Tourism ]
Early research available in English, by Ford Wilke (requires professional log-in) from 1954, reveals that there has been confusion over whether Spotted seals (Phoca largha) or Hokkaido/Kuril seals (Phoca vitulina ssp.) were being counted. Ringed seals (Phoca hispida) are also found in the area, but the category of trouble-maker has been applied to them all indiscriminately, and there is extensive by-catch from commercial fishing activities. The Ministry seeks to establish an "optimum" population.
It's likely that economic considerations rather than conservation concerns will determine the target population numbers. The Ministry estimates that even with their measures to ensure "harmonious coexistence of seals and the fishing industry", under the current plan there is a 10% chance that Hokkaido seals will die out in Japan by the next century. Captured pups are currently being taken to aquariums for public enjoyment; it's unclear what the fate is to be of the adults.