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Global warming poses new risk for Finnish lake seals

06 Apr 2018, 02:22 ( 06 Apr, 2018)

DF-Xinhua Report
President Sauli Niinistö was checking a nest of Lake Saimaa ringed seal on Thursday at Lake Pihlajavesi on Thursday. Photo President office by Matti Porre.

Crawling in the snow and looking into a black hole, President Sauli Niinistö was checking a nest of Lake Saimaa ringed seal on Thursday. The news picture depicted the serious interest of Finns in the survival of the endangered animals.

The president joined nature experts in the annual counting of seal nests on the desolate ice-covered Lake Pihlajavesi in eastern Finland. It is part of the Lake Saimaa, the biggest lake in Finland.

Niinistö told the media that this was the second time he observed the conservation efforts for the lake seals.

The Lake Saimaa ringed seal is a subspecies of the ringed seal. It is bigger in size than its closest relatives, the Ladoga ringed seal and the Baltic ringed seal. It is the only type of seals that live in the lake.

The Saimaa seals make nests on the lake ice or on the shores of islands, and warm winters with insufficient snow have become a new danger to them.

To help the seals survive, volunteers and public employees pile up snow to create conditions that are suitable for the seals to make a nest. The two nests discovered during the president's visit were built on such piled snow.

While the past winter is unusually cold for Finnish people, the inclement condition has been the best possible for the lake seals.

However, Esko Hyvärinen, a senior counselor at the Ministry of the Environment, told Xinhua the long term future looks bad. "When global warming advances to the stage where there is no ice cover on the lakes, there will be no place for the nests of lake seals." 

Hyvärinen said it would not be possible to create an artificial environment for the Saimaa seals in a zoo, or to move the animals to a more northerly lake.

During recent decades, the Saimaa ringed seal has become a national icon of nature conservation in Finland. But only some decades ago, seals were considered mainly a hazard as they broke fishermen's nets and consumed fish. A reward was paid by the government for killing a seal.

Hunting of seals was prohibited in 1980. Today fishermen receive financial compensation to offset their losses in return of participating in protective programs.

Already on the brink of extinction at the start of the decade, the Saimaa ringed seal was moved from "critically endangered" to "very endangered" class in 2015, as the population reached 400 individuals.

Public efforts were made to reduce noise hazards during the nesting season and more personnel were assigned to control of a safer environment for the seals.

In Finnish media and public discussion, the Saimaa seals and their future have assumed a position comparable to that of the giant pandas on the world stage. But as global warming will probably destroy their living environment, the Finnish efforts are unlikely to be a lasting solution.

Hyvärinen said, "Just a few warm winters without snow and ice could quickly impair the condition of the Saimaa seals."