(ANIMAL GALLERY) This year has been one for the books. From YouTube sensations to Japan tsunami survivors to animal based blockbuster films, animals have played an enormous role in some of the major events of 2011. Read on for our list of the top animal stars of the past year. — Global Animal

Loyal Tsunami Dogs

Mei Chan, the "loyal tsunami dog," is safe with her guardian. The Brittany spaniel was rescued by her guardian shortly after the "Stay Together Dogs" video captured the world's concern.

Tensions were high between Global Animal co-founder Arthur Jeon and Kenn Sakurai after the March tsunami in Japan. Following the release of a video showing two loyal dogs protecting each other, Mr. Sakurai, the owner of a dog food supply company in Japan, announced on his Facebook page that the dogs had been rescued. What actually happened to the two dogs became a source of controversy, all surrounding Mr. Sakurai, the only person who claimed to know what happened to the dogs in the video footage shot by Fuji TV. While news sources CNN, Fuji Television, NPR, UK Telegraph, and Global Animal, reported based on Mr. Sakurai’s claims, and after he received an untold amount of donations, Mr. Sakurai failed to deliver any credible evidence regarding his story. 

Mr. Sakurai retracted his claims and in November, Nippon SPCA released a video showing one of the dogs safe and sound living with her guardian. 

Cyclops Shark

Photo Credit: Pisces Sportfishing

After a fisherman caught a pregnant dusky shark near Cerralvo Island in the Gulf of California earlier this year, the discovery of one of its unborn pups – an albino as well as a cyclops – went viral on the internet. After many people believed that the images were falsified, two scientists in La Paz, Mexico studied the specimen and confirmed that it was in fact a 22-inch-long dusky shark fetus with a single, functioning eye front and center on its head.


Siku is seen at Skandinavisk Dyrepark in Djursland, Denmark. A Danish zoo says a month-old polar bear cub has been taken into care since its mother failed to produce enough milk to feed him. Photo Credit: Skandinavisk Dyrepark/AP

Siku, the baby polar bear, captured hearts after he was born at the Scandinavian Wildlife Park in November of 2011. Hand-raised by humans since his mother doesn’t produce enough milk to feed him, videos of the adorable cub have become viral on the internet. With over a million YouTube views and over 24-thousand followers on Facebook, this little guy is already a star.

Dog Tease

One of the best dog videos of all time, we think! Photo credit: helablog.com

With over 82-million views, there’s not many people who haven’t seen this YouTube dog star. The video shows a talking shepherd getting teased about food and his unhappy reactions. We’re still waiting on the next installment!

Dolphin Tale

Winter the dolphin with her prosthetic tail. Photo credit: Clearwater Marine Aquarium

When Winter the bottlenose dolphin lost her tail in a crab trap in 2005, her survival did not seem possible. Luckily, she was taken to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida and after a year of development, was fitted with a prosthetic tail. The film Dolphin Tale, released in September, is based on the touching tale of Winter, and the people who came together to save her. In a Global Animal film review, we felt that Dolphin Tale “dives into the imperfect world where animals and mammals like Winter have such serious human-inflicted injuries that they can not live freely. And it’s up to us to make amends to those we’ve hurt and learn something from the experience.” 

Navy SEAL Hero Dog

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force/Monica Mendoza

Of the Navy SEAL team that was responsible for taking out Osama Bin Ladin, the world’s most notorious terrorist, one was a four-legged commando. Global Animal released the story that one military working dog accompanied the 79-man SEAL Team Six on their mission. The dog’s identity is classified along with the rest of the SEALs involved, the military refusing to release details citing the need to keep operational secrets from falling into the wrong hands. Major Ticer, a spokesperson for United States Special Operations Command, told Global Animal: “The primary functions of the dogs are finding explosives and conducting searches and patrols. Dogs are relied upon to provide early warning for potential hazards, many times, saving the lives of the Special Operations Forces with whom they operate.”

Baby Pandas

Twelve baby pandas, shown here, were recently revealed to the public for the first time. Photo credit: Huffington Post

12 baby pandas born earlier this year were publicly revealed at the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding and Research Center in China in October. The center, which started with six pandas in 1987 and is now home to 108, is hoping to save giant pandas, red pandas, and golden monkeys from extinction. These 12 new editions have certainly helped the cause!

War Horse

War Horse, released Christmas, 2011.

Created by DreamWorks, Disney, Steven Spielberg, and John Williams, the film War Horse depicts the overlooked role of horses in World War I and the power that animals have of bringing out the humanity in people. Not only did we give the film a great review, but we give the producers and director four paws for making sure the animals acting in the film were cared for. “The thing I emphasized from the outset was that the horses had to be safe,” said Spielberg. “I love horses and I didn’t want them to ever be in harm’s way. Bobby [Lovgren, the horse trainer] did that. Another essential person was Barbara Carr, the American Humane [Association] representative, who was there for every single shot. I gave her full power to pull the plug if she ever felt any of the horses were not up to the challenge or if she thought they could be injured in any way.”


Orangutans who are unable to be reintroduced to the natural habitat would be destined for the new islands. Photo credit: Attila Balazs/Epa/Corbis

From the new orangutan islands, to millions of dollars donated to save Borneo forests, to a new conservation program that will release 40 ex-captive orangutans into the wild, this has been a year for the “man of the forest.” As one of the most critically endangered species in the world, orangutans need a lot of help from us, and it seems that the many efforts of the past year are working to save these relatives of ours. 

Tsunami Akita

Photo: Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support

When the tsunami hit Japan, a man and his Akita, Shane, were separated by rushing floods. Taking shelter on higher ground at a local school, the man had given up hope of ever seeing his canine companion again. The last thing he ever expected was his loyal dog swimming through chest-high, debris-filled water to the school 6 hours later. This heart warming story touched many hearts after the significant loss and devastation the tsunami had brought to Japan.