Ladoga ringed seal

The Ladoga ringed seal (Phoca hispida ladogensis Nordq.) is a post-glacial relic? As are two other subspecies, the Baltic ringed seal (Ph. botnica) & the Saimaa ringed seal (Ph. saimensis). Ladoga ringed seal inhabits Lake Ladoga. The largest lake in Europe. Nowadays, Ladoga & Saimaa seals are the only ringed seals in the world that live permanently in freshwater lakes. At present the Ladoga seal is included in the Red Data Books of Russia & Karelia & in the IUCN Red List as a vulnerable species. The population has declined dramatically from an estimated 20,000 in the early part of last century to between 2,000 & 3,000 now. It is felt to be essential that active conservation steps are taken now before the population declines to the point that its remaining genetic diversity is lost.

This large freshwater mammal is the top predator in the food chain in Lake Ladoga. It is thus both an indictor of the health of the lake environment & in itself of immense interest & importance. Safeguarding this species is a best possible guarantee of the conservation of the remarkable biodiversity in this great lake.

The main threats to the Ladoga seals are – by-catches of them by commercials & subsistence fishermen, & disturbance as ringed seals are sensitive to noise & intrusion, especially in the winter breeding season.

The two most important ways of protecting the Ladoga seal are (a) the introduction of restrictions on fishing, & (b) the establishment of protected areas where disturbance is reduced to an absolute minimum. Survival of Ladoga ringed seal depends to large extent on local people & tourists behaviour. During recent years human activities have increased on Lake Ladoga & human caused disturbance can limit the available habitat for the ringed seal. This can happen either directly through human activities (e.g. boats, snowmobiles) or indirectly through the building of ill-sited dachas close to the lake shore.

Ladoga seal live normally 30 – 35 years. Ladoga seal reaches sexual maturity when 6 – 7 years old. Ladoga seal deliver offspring in February-March? & nurses the young seals for 1.5 – 2 months/ Ladoga seal moults annually from April to June (with the peak in mid-April – early May), & during this period the animals are less careful & hence more vulnerable. Ladoga seal feed on small fishes like smelt, vendace, roach & perch. The daily ration is 3 – 4 kg.

When the lake is free of ice seals haul out. At present the largest seal herds are found in & around the Valaamo archipelago. When the weather is calm there can be herds of 600 – 650 animals on the site. The islands of the Valaamo archipelago belong to protected area “Nature Park Valaamo Archipelago”. Special tours to observe hauling-out behavior of seals are organized guided by the experts on the Ladoga seal.

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