Visiting Seals are Welcome Guests in Japan

February 7, 2012

Unlocking Word Meanings
Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

1. gloomy (adj.)
[gloo-mee] – partially dark or dim
Example: The forest appears gloomy because of the big trees that cover the sunlight.

2. harbor (n.) [hahr-ber] – a sheltered part in a body of water
Example: The small island served as a harbor for sea travellers.

3. hind (adj.) [hahynd] –  located at the back of something (usually an animal)
Example:  Kangaroos have strong hind legs for jumping.

4. clumsily (adv.) [kluhm-zee-li] – in an awkward manner or lacking physical coordination
Example: The drunken man clumsily walked along the streets.

5. aquatic (adj.) [uh-kwat-ik] – relating to being in water
Example: The ocean museum was built to look like an aquatic environment.

Read the text below.

Seals, though not as charming as whales and dolphins, are greeted with delight whenever they visit the cold northeastern Hokkaido or, sometimes, the warmer rivers in Tokyo and Yokohama areas.

During the winter season, the gloomy frozen seas of Cape Notoro in Abashiri, Hokkaido occasionally serve as a harbor to seals—some of which may have reached the area by swimming through the Bering Sea from Russia.

Yet after seeing a seal, one realizes that they are not very exciting to watch, observes naturalist Mark Brazil. Unlike whales and dolphins, he says, seals are calm when floating on the water. Seals usually just move up the water’s surface slowly, open their nostrils to breathe [breeth], and quietly go under again, tightly closing their nostrils.

Though they do not move much above water, they prove to be expert swimmers in it. 

Evolution has made seals fully adapted to aquatic environments. They have flexible spines and short hind [hahynd] limbs for steering in water. They can dive several hundred meters below the water’s surface and stay there for several hours.

The ability to move from water to land is another thing that sets seals apart from whales and dolphins. Their short forelimbs with strong nails allow them to crawl on land or ice, although they do so clumsily. Land is also where they give birth to their young.

Despite not being as exciting as whales or dolphins, seals are still very much appreciated creatures in Japan, that upon their appearances, they are given special treatment. For instance, Tama-chan, a bearded seal that appeared in Tama, Tsurumi, Katabira and Naka rivers in 2002 and 2003, became popular on national television and was even awarded a juminhyo or residency registration. Another seal, named Ara-chan, was spotted in Saitama Prefecture’s Arakawa river in 2011 and was also made a special resident.

It seems whenever seals come for a visit, one thing is sure—they are always welcome guests in the country.

Viewpoint Discussion
Enjoy a discussion with your tutor. 

Discussion A

·         Do you think it was necessary for the seals to be registered as residents? Why or why not?
·         In what other ways do you think people can show appreciation for these seals?

Discussion B

·          Do you think people should know about the wonders of nature? Why or why not?
·         What for you is the best way to learn about nature?


February 7, 2012