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The Endemic Freshwater Seals of Lake Ladoga

The Red Data Book of the Russian Federation lists rare and endangered species of plants, animals and fungi within Russia's land territory, Continental shelf and marine zones which are officially granted protection. Based on the principles of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Russian Red Data Book developed from research conducted by Soviet biologists between 1961 and 1964 and serves as a valuable resource for organizing and monitoring special programs for both the protection and rehabilitation of at-risk species. Later research conducted for the Ministry of Agriculture built on information already gathered and led to the publication of the first official Red Data Book of the Russian Federation in 1978. As research continues and climate conditions change, the book is constantly revised and updated.

Among the animals listed in the Red Data Book is the Ladoga ringed seal (Pusa hispida ladogensis), a freshwater subspecies of the ringed seal endemic to Lake Ladoga in northwestern Russia. It is thought that this subspecies evolved around 11,000 years ago, when glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age, separating the Baltic ringed seal, of which the Ladoga ringed seal is a subspecies, from the Arctic ringed seal. The Baltic ringed seals adapted to the freshwater lakes. The Ladoga ringed seal is related to the Saimaa ringed seals of Finland that live in Lake Saimaa, which empties into Ladoga Lake via the Vuoksi River.

The average lifespan of Ladoga ringed seals is between 30 and 35 years, with the males reaching sexual maturity at around six years of age and the females between the ages of four and five years. They grow to around 1.5 meters long, with a weight of between 60 and 70 kg. Seal pups are born in the months of February and March and are weaned from their mothers in six to eight weeks.

At the beginning of the 20th century it was estimated that the Ladoga ringed seal population was around 20,000. However, due primarily to over-hunting, the population has dwindled to between two and three thousand individuals. Officially, hunting of the seals was banned in 1980, but unfortunately illegal poaching remains a problem. Additionally, seals are known to get caught in fishing nets and recreational activities have encroached on their favored breeding areas. Nonetheless, conservationists remain hopeful that increased awareness of the need to preserve Ladoga ringed seals will have a positive impact on their numbers.


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