In the early 20th century, we believe there might have been as many as 1,000 Saimaa ringed seals. The number declined due to hunting, and by the start of the 1980s, there were fewer than 120 individuals left. Thanks to the active conservation work set in motion by WWF in 1979, the Saimaa ringed seal population has increased, now covering approximately 380 animals.
See the great photos by Juha Taskinen and read the story: The Saimaa ringed seal is not alone
Humans are helping the extremely endangered Saimaa ringed seals in their struggle to find suitable places to nest by piling up snow on lake Saimaa’s ice to form man-made snow banks for nesting. In 2017, out of the 81 pups born, 90 percent were born in the man-made banks. Read more.
Climate change poses a threat to Saimaa ringed seals. They need snow to build the lairs where they give birth. These lairs protect their offspring from the cold, predators, and human disturbance. But over the past several years, the snow cover in the region has not been deep enough to create those lairs.
The plight of the Lake Saimaa seals denotes a hallmark for what may happen in other parts of the Arctic, as the planet warms. The year 2016 was, for the third consecutive year, the hottest year on record.
Fishing nets are also a major threat to the seal. Pups, in particular, can become entangled in fishing nets and drown.
What WWF Is Doing
We Work In The Field
• We are responsible for the census of the seal population in southern Saimaa.
• Our oil spill response team is ready to help in case of an oil spill.
• Volunteers working with WWF and Metsähallitus (Parks and Wildlife Finland) have been helping out by building snowbanks for the seals to use during snowless winters. Without this help, even half of the pups would be in danger of dying. For example in 2014, no natural snowdrifts formed in Saimaa, and more than 240 man-made snowdrifts were constructed to serve as nest-building places. About 90% of them were used by seals.
We Influence Decision-making
• Our conservation officers are members of official seal protection working groups and committees. We monitor how proposals are implemented and request improvements, when necessary.
• We present protection-related demands and initiatives to decision-makers and communicate about the topic in the media.
• In the spring of 2011, our key demand was realized when a spring-time net fishing ban in the most important Saimaa ringed seal nesting areas went from voluntary to absolute through a decree.
We Produce Information
• We support research that seeks means for learning more about the seal’s life and protecting it.
We Involve People
• We educate permanent and free-time residents of the Saimaa region on the seal and net fishing ban. Each year, together with local residents, we also declare a period of nesting peace for the Saimaa ringed seal.
• We have created a digital map, which people in the Saimaa region can use to see current restrictions on fishing nets and other fishing equipment that are dangerous to the Saimaa ringed seal.
• We give a diploma to everyone who voluntarily abandons net fishing on Lake Saimaa.
• We explain the importance of protecting the Saimaa ringed seal to the youngest family members, too.
We Collaborate with Companies
• Several companies fund Saimaa ringed seal research and protection by supporting our work. We have received, for instance, a hovercraft and other equipment as donations.