[click Mephala]

The Baikal seal (Pusa sibirica) is a Phocid endemic to Lake Baikal, a large and ancient rift valley lake in Siberia. Far from any oceans, it is uncertain how these seals managed to colonize the lake. It is theorized that they perhaps swam there through the numerous rivers that connect the lake to the sea, or that there was once a much more vast channel to the sea. What is known is that the seals have lived there for around 2 million years.
Baikal seals are among the smallest species of seal, and feed mainly on golomyanka, a fish that is also endemic to the lake as well as some invertebrates and the omul, another endemic fish. They hunt mostly at night in 10-20 minute dives, though they are capable of remaining submerged for over an hour, which is made possible by the two liters of extra blood they have compared to similarly sized seals. In the autumn, before the lake freezes, Baikal seals migrate to bays and coves within the lake to eat sculpin, a fish that lives in silty areas and thus consumes a lot of dirt. When digested, the soil in these fish scours the intestinal tracts of the seals, removing parasites.
Females are the only Baikal seals to leave the water during the winter where they rear their pups. They dig large dens which the pups will then expand themselves into a network of winding tunnels, thought to provide enough exercise to keep them warm until they develop a thick layer of blubber. The mother seal nurses her pups for around 2.5 months and will then start introducing them to solid food by bring fish and shrimp into the den. After the ice melts and the dens collapse, the pups are left on their own and can live as long as 50 years.
Currently, the IUCN lists the Baikal seal as “Least Concern”. As with all species with small ranges, that could change quickly. Currently, a paper mill uses chlorine to bleach its paper and dumps the waste into the lake. These waste materials are thought to become concentrated as they travel up the food chain and weaken the immune systems of Baikal seals, which suffered thousands of losses in epidemics in 1997 and 1999. The Russian government is also planning to build a nuclear plant nearby where 90% of the radioactive material will be stored. As the Baikal region is made of a geologically active rift valley, an earthquake could release this material and pollute waterways in the region, including the lake. Poaching is also an issue, as their furs go for a very high price— as much as a month’s wages. The government has done little to prevent over hunting, with the annual quota having been lowered to merely 3,500 in 2000, which is 5% of the population. To make matters worse, Lake Baikal is patrolled by only 8 wildlife officials to enforce the quota, which leaves each officer with around 2,500 km to patrol alone.

The Baikal seal (Pusa sibirica) is a Phocid endemic to Lake Baikal, a large and ancient rift valley lake in Siberia. Far from any oceans, it is uncertain how these seals managed to colonize the lake. It is theorized that they perhaps swam there through the numerous rivers that connect the lake to the sea, or that there was once a much more vast channel to the sea. What is known is that the seals have lived there for around 2 million years.

Baikal seals are among the smallest species of seal, and feed mainly on golomyanka, a fish that is also endemic to the lake as well as some invertebrates and the omul, another endemic fish. They hunt mostly at night in 10-20 minute dives, though they are capable of remaining submerged for over an hour, which is made possible by the two liters of extra blood they have compared to similarly sized seals. In the autumn, before the lake freezes, Baikal seals migrate to bays and coves within the lake to eat sculpin, a fish that lives in silty areas and thus consumes a lot of dirt. When digested, the soil in these fish scours the intestinal tracts of the seals, removing parasites.

Females are the only Baikal seals to leave the water during the winter where they rear their pups. They dig large dens which the pups will then expand themselves into a network of winding tunnels, thought to provide enough exercise to keep them warm until they develop a thick layer of blubber. The mother seal nurses her pups for around 2.5 months and will then start introducing them to solid food by bring fish and shrimp into the den. After the ice melts and the dens collapse, the pups are left on their own and can live as long as 50 years.

Currently, the IUCN lists the Baikal seal as “Least Concern”. As with all species with small ranges, that could change quickly. Currently, a paper mill uses chlorine to bleach its paper and dumps the waste into the lake. These waste materials are thought to become concentrated as they travel up the food chain and weaken the immune systems of Baikal seals, which suffered thousands of losses in epidemics in 1997 and 1999. The Russian government is also planning to build a nuclear plant nearby where 90% of the radioactive material will be stored. As the Baikal region is made of a geologically active rift valley, an earthquake could release this material and pollute waterways in the region, including the lake. Poaching is also an issue, as their furs go for a very high price— as much as a month’s wages. The government has done little to prevent over hunting, with the annual quota having been lowered to merely 3,500 in 2000, which is 5% of the population. To make matters worse, Lake Baikal is patrolled by only 8 wildlife officials to enforce the quota, which leaves each officer with around 2,500 km to patrol alone.

1 year ago

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    Wow did not know of this species!
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