Two seals, including a newborn, have died at Ocean Park in two separate incidents in less than a week, a spokeswoman for the marine theme park said yesterday.
A red panda also escaped its enclosure and entered a neighbouring enclosure, home to the park’s two resident giant pandas, Ying Ying and Le Le.
A newborn spotted seal died on Thursday shortly after it was born. Its mother, Qiao Niu, accidentally knocked the baby into the water.
A necropsy, the animal equivalent of an autopsy, revealed that the baby seal’s lungs did not have enough time to inflate before it was thrown into the water so it was unable to breathe and died.
The baby seal did not drown, the park said.
Suzanne Gendron, the park’s executive director of zoological operations and education, said security cameras showed that Qiao Niu was asleep when she started to give birth.
Gendron said the mother seal appeared startled when she woke up and unknowingly knocked her baby into the water.
It was the first incident of its kind, the spokeswoman added.
In a separate incident, a male harbour seal named Donut, aged seven, died on Monday when it suffered complications during surgery to remove cataracts.
A spokeswoman confirmed that Donut, who was born in captivity, died due to anaesthesia complications which led to heart failure.
Tests which examine the seal’s tissue will be conducted.
The park said it had performed 49 anaesthesia procedures on seals since 2006, and this was the first death as a result of the procedure.
Last year, the park conducted a successful cataract removal for another harbour seal, called Rose.
Dr Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, chairman of the Dolphin Conservation Society, questioned the park’s capabilities to raise seals in captivity and suspected the deaths may have involved negligence on the part of the park’s staff.
Hung said he did not understand why the park did not provide 24-hour monitoring of the pregnant spotted seal, especially when she was due to give birth in the coming weeks.
This close monitoring of expectant mothers was a process the park usually had in place for dolphins, he said.
Meanwhile, one of the three red pandas kept in the “Amazing Asian Animals” section of the park managed to escape its own enclusure and sneak into a neighbouring one, home to the park’s resident giant pandas, Ying Ying and Le Le.
The spokeswoman said both the giant pandas were not in the enclosure when the red panda broke in and that it later returned to its own enclosure.
The spokeswoman said there was no chance the red panda could escape and that the park would look at how to improve its partitions.
When the spokeswoman was asked why the park had not made public disclosures about the two seal deaths and red panda incident until after they were revealed in the media, she said it was because management was still gathering information.
The park has been plagued by a series of incidents in recent months.
On February 4, just days before the start of the Year of the Monkey, a golden snub-nosed monkey - one of three on loan to Ocean Park from Chengdu Zoo - died after an operation.