Saimaa ringed seal
About the Saimaa ringed seal (Pusa hispida saimensis)
- Mankind is the sole enemy of Saimaa ringed seal and net fishing is its greatest threat.
- The Saimaa ringed seal is a subspecies of the ringed seal. It is bigger in size than its closest relatives, the Ladoga ringed seal (Russia) and the Baltic ringed seal, with a length of 130-145 cm (4 “3-4 “7) and a weight of 50-90 kg (110-198 lbs).
- Its colouring is dark grey, black or brown, and its fur has well distinguished individual rondels.
- The ringed seals live in small subpopulations, and although they tend to set their homes in the same areas from year to year, the younger ones often wander off to further territories.
- The grey-furred pups are born around February-May, into sheltered snow caves, weighing at their birth, a modest 4-5 kg (10 lbs). The mother will nurse the pup until May, after which the pup will learn how to fish its own food.
- The ringed seal has adapted to aquatic life, spending around 60-80 % of its lifetime underwater. While the dive can last up to 20 minutes, it more usually does for only 3-8 minutes.
- Whisker-sensing is the most important of the ringed seal’s senses, allowing it to navigate and prey in the dim waters of Saimaa.
- The Saimaa ringed seal feeds on small fish such as vendace, smelt, roach and perch.
What threatens the Saimaa ringed seal?
Humans represent the only threat for the ringed seal, and although the species has been protected for the past half-century, it has more recently been classified as being threatened of extinction. The struggle of the Saimaa ringed seal is not however a novelty; at the end of the 19th century, this ringed seal was considered to be an enemy of fishing and a bounty was paid for the skull of a ringed seal.
While the bounty-paying ended in 1948, a new threat arose in the 1960’s: net fishing. The formerly used cotton nets, which weren’t of any harm to the species, were replaced with new nylon nets, killing a big majority of the ringed seal pups.
In the past decades, the size of the Saimaa ringed seal population has kept declining, as no less than half of the born individuals die before reaching adulthood. Indeed, it was estimated up until two years ago that one out of two pups died by suffocation because of the lethal fishing nets. In addition, ringed seals of reproductive age also die yearly because of reckless fishing methods involving strong-threaded nets, fence networks of traps and even hooks from fish baits.
A solution for the prevention of these deaths involving fishing nets would be to replace these dangerous fishing gear with safer fish traps. These fish traps however, may also represent a danger to the pups if they are too loose.
An additional, more indirect threat amounts from the negative impacts of climate change. Indeed, global warming causing milder winters than usual, result in too little snow and frost being available for the Saimaa ringed seal to securely build its nest. In this case, other threats will surface, such as the cold and predators. The absence of a steady water surface during the nesting process may also cause the collapse of shore-ice, or flooding of water, thus destroying the nests.
Finally, the Saimaa ringed seal needs peace during its nesting period from December to April, but the species is often disturbed by the increasing amount of summer cottages, the all-year-round use of these and intense construction within the Saimaa region. On the other hand, moving across the ice may produce alien sounds which will sometimes cause the ringed seal mother and pup to instinctively dive underwater in order to escape, sometimes causing the pup to freeze to death.
Solutions for the future of the ringed seal
- Fishing restrictions: The rate of fishing bycatch deaths of pups has decreased since the introduction of fishing restrictions. As net fishing is the biggest threat for the Saimaa ringed seal, we provide guidance in fishing activities and, with the donation funds, give out fish traps to the fishers who have voluntarily gotten rid of their fishing nets.
- The stopper*: Fish traps can also be dangerous for the ringed seal. A special stopper* prevents the funnel of the fish trap from expanding, so that the pup doesn’t die by swimming into the fish trap. We provide stoppers* with the money from donations and instruct people on their use.
- Nesting peace: Tranquility is essential for the Saimaa ringed seal during its nesting period from December to April, especially during mild winters with little snow.
- Active climate work: As for most species, the ringed seal takes time to adapt and there are growing threats for the species’ population, as winters get milder from year to year. By actively wrestling the issue of climate change, we are progressively securing the future of the seal.
- Less coastal building: The increasing construction processes on Saimaa constrict the ringed seal’s habitats, adding disturbance and movement to their nesting areas. We can help the Saimaa ringed seal by defending and protecting its living environment, for example by influencing the planning.
- Spreading information to the future: Threats for the Saimaa ringed seal often spring from ignorance or indifference. Touring around schools and nurseries, informing and briefing children is thus a consistent part of our work.
- Research data: A lot of research is still to be done, as knowing the population size, distribution, as well as the impacts of global warming, is a fundamental part in the conservation of the ringed seal. This is why we collaborate closely with scientists and researchers.
”FISH RIGHT WITH A FISH TRAP” Campaign
A fish trap with a loose funnel is a threat to the Saimaa ringed seal pup. Fish traps with loose or wide funnels are prohibited on main ringed seal territories, but nevertheless, it was found that one-third of the fish traps that were inspected in 2012 by fishing inspectors were in violation of the
By adding a special stopper into it, an inadequate fish trap can be equipped for it to be safe for the ringed seal. The stopper can either be made out of 6 millimeter thick rebar, or gotten from the offices of the FANC and some Eekoo, Suur-Savo, PKO and PeeÄssä stores, where they are being freely distributed. See the current distribution points.
The stopper must be inflexible enough so the ringed seal cannot spread the funnel of the trap out more than 15 centimeters, as seen in the picture. The stopper is firmly attached to the fish trap using four cable ties.
You can also build seal-safe fish traps yourself from scratch. Instructions (in Finnish) can be found here: Saimaa-katiska.
Help to save the Saimaa ringed seal!
Support our work for the conservation of the ringed seal by making a donation to bank account FI94 8000 1600 0988 50 (message: saimaannorppa).