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Saimaa Seal (Phoca hispida saimensis)

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Saimaa seals, like other ringed seals, are short and stocky. Both males and females reach about 5 feet (1.5 m) long and 240 pounds (110 kg). Saimaa seals tend to be darker than other ringed seals. They are a dark gray or even black on their backs, with signature white or light gray rings. Their undersides are a pale cream or light gray color and have fewer, if any, rings.

Pups are born generally in March or April about one month before mating begins again. Adult males and females appear to form familial bonds during each breeding season, though males may mate with different females in different years. Their lifespan is around 25-30 years.

Their diet consists mainly of fish.

Status

ESA Endangered – throughout its range
MMPA Depleted – throughout its range

Species Description

Weight:
240 pounds (110 kg)
Length:
5 feet (1.5 m)
Appearance:
short and stocky, dark gray or black, with signature white or light gray rings, with gray or cream colored undersides
Lifespan:
about 25-30 years
Diet:
mainly fish
Behavior:
form familial bonds during each breeding season, though males may mate with different females in different years

 

Habitat

This species is classified as ENDANGERED by the IUCN's Red List.
This species is classified as ENDANGERED by the IUCN’s Red List.

Unlike most other ringed seal species, Saimaa seals are found only in freshwater. Female Saimaa seals build lairs in snowdrifts near the shoreline rocks of the lake during breeding season.

Distribution

Saimaa seals are found only in Lake Saimaa in eastern Finland.

Population Trends

There are less than 300 Saimaa seals.

Threats

Historically:

  • hunting
  • interactions with fisheries

Currently:

  • incidental capture in fisheries–except when fisheries are prohibited during breeding season–still occurs

Conservation Efforts

Saimaa seals are protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) and Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972. Specialnational parks in Finland This link is an external site. have been set up in and around Lake Saimaa to help protect the seals.

Regulatory Overview

The Saimaa seal has been protected under Finnish law since 1955. The Saimaa seal was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1993.

Taxonomy

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Phocidae
Genus: Phoca
Species: hispida
Subspecies: saimensis

The saimaa seal is a subspecies of the ringed seal (Phoca hispida).

References:

  • Shirihai, H. and B. Jarrett (2006). Whales, Dolphins and Other Marine Mammals of the World. Princeton, Princeton University Press.
  • NOAA

Cool/Gross/Weird:

  • The Saimaa seal only exists in the Saimaa Lake system of eastern Finland, with only 270 individuals remaining in the wild.
  • Females dig their lairs in snow drifts and create a hole in the ice below through which to enter and exit for fishing.
  • The primary threat to the population is entrapment of young seals in fishing nets and collapse of lairs.

-TSF-

 

 
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