In May 2021, Lake Baikal Foundation and A.N. Severtsov Institute for Ecology and Evolution of RAS (IEE RAS) signed an agreement to conduct genetic studies of the Baikal seal biomaterial within the framework of the project of the same name, which is part of the integrated Baikal seal Research Program approved by the IEE RAS for the period up to 2025. Lake Baikal Foundation transferred the necessary funds for its implementation — the grant fund of the project amounted to 1,092,574 rubles.
In the near future, the necessary reagents and consumables will be purchased and in summer genetic studies of the endemic will begin. The work involves assessing the genetic diversity in the Baikal seal groups that form summer habitat on the Ushkany Islands, based on biomaterial samples from living and deceased animals obtained non-invasively in 2019 (21 samples from live animals) and in 2020 (about 40 samples from animals that died from unknown causes).
Once the DNA of each seal is decoded, they can be compared with each other. Such an analysis will help determine the genetic diversity of a species: the greater it is, the more stable the species is. So, it is be able to adapt to more changes in conditions. This will let us know if there are divisions within the species into separate populations. Each subpopulation may need its own monitoring and protection measures. Such analyses are important in order to understand the structure of the Baikal seal population, to take reasonable steps to properly preserve the unique species and to prevent critical changes in its population.
The genetic research of the Baikal seal in 2021 was made possible thanks to the support of the population, as well as donors and partners of the Foundation. The project will be implemented thanks to the systematic support of the corporate trustee, the «World Around You» Foundation of Siberian Wellness Corporation, donations collected during the charity fair at the private school Wunderpark International School, donations made through the platform of the «Nuzhna Pomosch» Foundation, as well as donations from Raiffeisen Bank employees through the «Code of Good» Foundation.
Lake Baikal Foundation has been cooperating with the IEE RAS since 2018. With the support of the Foundation, a Program for the study of the Baikal seal for 2020-2025 was developed, an expedition to satellite tag the Baikal seal was conducted, as well as hormonal, serological, toxicological and virological studies.
Photo: Alexey Svatov