The Saimaa ringed seal is a subspecies of seals solely found in Finland’s Saimaa lake. The Saimaa ringed seal can be easily recognized by the circular white rings on its black grey dorsal. With a population reaching only 400 animals, the Saimaa ringed seals are among the most endangered seals in the world. Fortunately, actions are being taken to protect the animal threatened with extinction.

Measures being taken to save the seals

Over the years, actions by the government, companies, organizations and individuals have been put in place to protect the endangered animal. The Saimaa ringed seal is listed as an endangered species by the U.S. government under the Endangered Species Act. In 2010, Finland was required by the European Union to look into the fishing-net methods used in commercial fishing in order to protect the seals. Following this examination, the use of certain methods of fishing such as strong mesh nets, large fish traps, and fish-baited hooks was banned. Krista Mikkonen reminds us of our role in protecting the seals:

“Human activity, from disturbance to deaths through fishing, also threatens the seal. It is important to develop new ways to protect the seal population” 

Krista Mikkonen, politician with the Finnish Green League, also known as The Greens, and Finland’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change

Threats to the survival of the species

  • Fishing mortality: Pups, in particular, get entwined in fishing nets and also drown in other fish traps.
  • Climate change: A snowy winter is essential for the survival of the newly born seals.
  • Small population: The pool of genes gets weakened if a seal breeds with a closely related member.
  • Ongoing disturbance during breeding: The seals must be undisturbed during the breeding season otherwise, it may result in the death of the pups.
  • Building on the shorelines: Year-round human habitation on the shores of Lake Saimaa is encroaching on the seals’ breeding and resting areas.

The Saimaa Seal Life project

The Saimaa Seal LIFE project has done a lot to protect the Saimaa ringed seal between 2012 and 2018. They conducted research, built human-made snowdrifts, distributed information and gave advice to the citizens and municipalities about the seals’ survival. “It’s great that this new, extensive project to secure the living conditions of the Saimaa ringed seal has been launched. Although the Saimaa ringed seal has been under protection for a long time, further action is needed. The species is still very endangered and its population is very vulnerable. The latest winter was mild which made it difficult for the seals to nest, and it led to numerous deaths of seal pups.”, said Mikkonen.

The future of the Saimaa ringed seal

There is much more to be done to protect Finland’s ringed seals. Unfortunately, the ban on fishing nets was only a temporary measure, and the number of animals dying from the nets is once again endangering the survival of the species. The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation has asked fishermen to refrain from using fishing nets even after the ban has been lifted. Citizens have also become involved in the project to save this magnificent animal from extinction and accumulated 50 000 signatures by initiating a petition for a total ban on fishing nets. According to the researchers at the Finland state forest, it looks like there was a growth in the population of Saimaa ringed seals in 2020. With all the initiatives put in place by the government and the public, there is hope for the Saimaa ringed seals of Finland.

Valérie Gemme

Valérie Gemme graduated from Concordia University with a BA in Spanish, Hispanic Cultures and Literatures and a Minor in English Literature. She is currently pursuing a Certificate in Digital Marketing - Web Applications. She has travelled the world for many years as a flight attendant. Her passions include travel, literature and new technologies. She practices a minimalist lifestyle and has an interest in sustainable and off-the-grid living.

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