in nature

The Baikal Seal

Today we’re going to talk about an animal that is unique to Russia: the Baikal Seal (Pusa sibirica).

Baikal Seal
A young seal, photographed by Per Harald Olsen

This earless seal can be found only in the (you guessed it!) Lake Baikal, which is the world’s largest freshwater lake (by volume, not extension) and deepest lake: scientists have calculated that it holds 20% of the world’s unfrozen surface freshwater and reaching depths of more than 1km.

Baikal Seal map
Map from http://www.lib.utexas.edu ; Seal photo by Konrad Wothe

Formed in an active rift valley (like lake Tanganyika in Africa), it has a surface area of 31, 722 m2 and is a unique habitat for thousands of animals, some of which, like the Baikal seal, have probably been there for more than 2 million years.

One of the three freshwater seals in the world, the Baikal seal lives hundreds of kilometers from the ocean -how it came to live in the lake is still a scientific mystery.

Baikal Seal
Photo by Coke and Som Smith

The species is not considered threatened as there are estimated to be about 80,000 to 100,000 animals – calculations have put this number as the maximum the lake’s ecosystem can handle.

Baikal Seal
Seal pup, photo from http://www.china.org.cn

The lake, however, is becoming more and more polluted. In addition, seal pups are hunted (both legally and illegally) for their fur, and quotas (like in Canada and Namibia) are increasingly high. Too high – researchers have seen a constant ageing of the seal population that could lead to population imbalances and, ultimately, a serious risk to the whole species.

You can find more information on the Baikal seal here.

baikal seal
A pup, molting into adulthood. By Duiken Redactie

How can you help?

  • share this post
  • tell your friends about these unique mammals
  • keep an eye out for seal fur products and do not buy them, legal or illegal.
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