The Baikal Seal

The Baikal Seal

April 2018 – present

Contribute to the research of the Baikal seal population

The Baikal seal is an endemic species, the only mammal of the Baikal and an indicator of its ecosystem’s stability. In the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the species had status Lower Risk/ Near Threatened from 1996 to 2008, since 2008 – Least Concern (the INCN Red List, 2018). The Red Book of the Russian Federation does not assign a conservation status to the Baikal seal, it is commercial species (The Red Book of the Russian Federation, 2020).

The current state of the population is understudied – we lack data about population dynamics, agestructure, season migration and impact factors. There was no evaluation of the population’s well-being since the anthropogenicimpact on the seal’s habitat has increased. Simultaneously the news about poaching and abuse of animalswith a highlevel of emotional intellect requires urgent measures in scientific and educational fields.

Lake Baikal Foundation holds activities to resolve the problems listed above.

Goal:

  • to shape responsible and careful attitude to the Baikal seal on the part of the scientific community, environmental organizations, local population of the Baikal region and people all over Russia.

Targets:

  • to obtain missing scientific data about the current state of the Baikal seal population with non-invasive and minimally invasive, humane methods;
  • to work out strategies to improve the state of the endemic population in cooperation with the partners on the scientific program based on data obtained by them;
  • to send the expertise and recommendations based on the results of the research to environmental regulatory bodies and other institutions which work in the environmental field;
  • to hold educational activities for schoolchildren to shape careful attitude to the Baikal seal;
  • to inform a wide audience about the results of scientific research on the Baikal seal, launching a special project in regional and national media, which also includes the educational part.

What has been done in 2018:

Lake Baikal Foundation initiated a comprehensive program on the research of the Baikal seal and its habitat. Together with A.N. Severtsov Institute for Ecology and Evolution of RAS (IEE RAS) the Foundation organized a round table discussion «Current Threats to the Baikal Seal» with the participation of marine mammals experts. The participants discussed the reasons and the consequences of threats to the endemic population and the Baikal ecosystem as a whole, as well as measures for its protection. By the end of the discussion, they decided to work out a comprehensive program under the aegis of Lake Baikal Foundation to find innovative approaches to counting and studying the Baikal seal and to send expert recommendations about preservation of the population to relevant regulatory bodies and the public;

Lake Baikal Foundation has supported the development of a comprehensive scientific program on the research of the Baikal seal and its habitat together with A.N. Severtsov Institute for Ecology and Evolution of RAS. In the framework of the program initiated by the Foundation, the scientists described new affordable methods of studying the Baikal seal and its habitat. The scientific program also includes recommendations on the preservation and well-being of the endemic species considering the increasing anthropogenic impact on lake Baikal. Due to the support of Lake Baikal Foundation, the topic of the Baikal seal preservation and the scientific program got in the Agenda of the 10th International Scientific Сonference «Marine mammals of the Holarctic» which took place in Arkhangelsk October 29 – November 2, 2018. In the aftermath of the Conference, the scientific program was sent to the leading Russian and foreign research institutions on sea mammals, governmental bodies, SPNAs of the Baikal region. Among such organizations are: Limnological Institute of SB RAS, The Russian Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography,  The Baikal Nature Interregional Prosecutor’s Office, Association of natural protected areas «Zapovednoe Pribaikalye», Association of natural protected areas «Zapovednoe Podlemorye».

What has been done in 2019:

  • In 2019 Lake Baikal Foundation launched the project «The Baikal Seal Year» aimed at studying the Baikal seal and shaping a conscious attitude to it. The project became the winner of the Presidential Grants Foundation’s contest in 2018 in the category «Environment and Animals Protection». You can learn more about the project here.

What has been done in 2020:

  • the results of the study of the migration routes of the tagged seals were obtained. They demonstrate that the Baikal seals actively and widespread use the entire water area of the lake;
  • the results of toxicological studies were obtained. They show the presence in the blood of the investigated Baikal seals of a complete list of both investigated organochlorine pesticides, including those in the list of the Stockholm Convention, and investigated heavy metals (mercury, cadmium, lead, zinc) and arsenic, presumably found in the body through the diet of seals;
  • the results of virological studies were obtained. They reveal the genetic material of the influenza type A virus in the nasal smear from three animals, though the presence of other viruses from the investigation list was not detected; in 35% of the captured seals, external signs of diseases of unknown etiology were found, as well as external injuries (presumably from fishing nets);
  • hormonal studies are being conducted to determine barrenness and other characteristics of seals, as well as serological studies to determine the presence of antibodies to the investigation pathogens in seals;
  • the Foundation has supported the second expedition to collect field data on the population of the Baikal seal, which took place from July 18 to August 22 on the Ushkany Islands. During the expedition, visual surveys of seals were carried out at the largest summer habitat of the population, including the photographic and video filming, morphological measurements were carried out, and wool and skin samples were taken both from the living animals and the found fallen ones. A total of 127 samples were collected for genetic and hormonal research. The data obtained will make it possible both to reveal the patterns of the spatial distribution of animals in the haulage and to assess the current state of the population in general;
  • with the support of the Foundation, IEE RAS scientists have developed and approved a comprehensive The Baikal Seal Research Program for 2020-2025, the goals of which are 1) to study the current state of the Baikal seal population as an endemic of the fauna of Lake Baikal and an indicator species of the state of Lake Baikal; and 2) to create a scientific bases for ensuring the effective conservation of the biodiversity of Lake Baikal;
  • a charitable fundraising campaign has been launched to conduct genetic research of the Baikal seal based on biomaterials collected during two expeditions. Genetic testing is expected in the first half of 2021.

Sustainability of the Program:

  • Based on the results of the research, the Foundation declares the need to pay special attention to preventing the Baikal seals from getting into the nets, to creating new protected areas to preserve the endemic, as well as the need to continue a comprehensive study of the well-being of the population. Therefore, in 2020-2025, the Foundation continues to study the Baikal seal under the approved Research Program;
  • in 2021, the Foundation plans to conduct histological studies, as well as another expedition to tag seals in the northern part of Lake Baikal to identify migration routes and remote observation of the Baikal seal in the water area;
  • within the framework of The Baikal Seal Research Program for 2020-2025, the Foundation plans to test the method of non-invasive hydroacoustic registration of seals, which is supposed to have a higher accuracy in comparison with existing methods of registration. With successful results, this method will finally make it possible to carry out a reliable census of the population of the Baikal seal.

The project is implemented with the support of Presidential Grants Foundation

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Biodiversity Conservation