Finland (Lake Saimaa)
Date Listed: 05/06/1993
Lead Region: National Marine Fisheries Service (Region 11)
Where Listed: Entire
Population location: Entire
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Pusa hispida saimensis, see its USFWS Species Profile
Saimaa ringed seal
The Saimaa ringed seal (Pusa hispida saimensis) is a subspecies of ringed seal (Pusa hispida). They are among the most endangered seals in the world, having a total population of only about 310 individuals. The only existing population of these seals is found in Lake Saimaa, Finland (hence the name). The population is descended from ringed seals that were separated from the rest when the land rose after the last ice age. This seal, along with the Ladoga Seal and the Baikal Seal, is one of the few living freshwater seals.
An adult Saimaa ringed seal is between 85 and 160 centimetres (2.79 and 5.25 ft) in length and weighs between 40 and 90 kilograms (88 and 198 lb); males usually being larger than females. They are coloured dark gray, with a gray-black dorsal with circular white rings. The bottom is light gray. The Saimaa ringed seal is darker in color than other ringed seals.
Saimaa ringed seals become mature between the ages of 4 and 6 on average. Their pregnancy rate is between 80 and 95 percent. Ringed seals' gestation lasts 11 months. Their pups are between 55 and 65 centimetres (1.80 and 2.13 ft), and 4 to 5 kilograms (8.8 to 11.0 lb) at birth. The Saimaa ringed seal's longevity is just over 20 years. With the current population level, between 30 and 60 (65 in 2004) pups are born every year, about a third of which reach adulthood. Metsähallitus Natural Heritage Services found evidence for only 43 pups in 2009 (40 of those alive); it is unclear what is behind the reduced pup production.
The Saimaa ringed seal has been protected since 1955. In 1983, the population was between 100 and 150 seals. In 2005, it was about 270, but as a result of two unfavorable breeding seasons, 2006 and 2007, the number dropped down to 260. In 2013 the population was estimated at just over 300 and the population numbers were in a slight growth. The number of breeding-aged females was 87. It is thought that the immediate threat of extinction would be alleviated if the population grew to over 400 individuals. It is listed as endangered by the U.S. government under the Endangered Species Act.
In order to protect the Saimaa ringed seal, there are voluntary fisheries restrictions in a part of their living areas. The most important form of restriction is a ban for fishing nets from April 15 to the end of June in about 15% of the lake; nearly all fishing is recreational. Bycatch mortality has, however, remained high with estimated mortality of 20–30 seals annually, most of them pups of the same year. A committee proposed in the end of 2008 that the areal extent of the restrictions should be extended. The most effective way for this would be a legal ban, but the then minister of agriculture and forestry, Sirkka-Liisa Anttila was unwilling to use any general bans in the protection of the Saimaa seal. Anttila tried instead to encourage free-time fishermen with compensation money to voluntary agreements for restrictions of fishing. As of May, 2009 this has not succeeded as only some 20–30% of a target of 1000 additional square kilometres of freetime fisheries restrictions (there is also a handful of professional fishermen) has been filled up.
- "Endangered and Threatened Species under NMFS' Jurisdiction". United States Fish & Wildlife Service. 6 April 2010. Retrieved 11 November 2010.
- "Ultra-rare Saimaa seal population recovers slowly". Retrieved 10 January 2013.
- Partio, Elina (2013-09-13). "Saimaannorpan kanta kasvussa". Yle.
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