Snowy winter gives temporary relief to endangered seals in Finland: biologist

The unusually snowy winter 2018-2019 has greatly improved the situation of the endangered Saimaa ringed seals in the Finnish eastern lake district.

“Seals construct their huts under the snow cover and this year it was easy to do so,” biologist Jouni Koskela of the Wildlife Service of the Forestry Board told national broadcaster Yle on Sunday.

Authorities have estimated that some 80 cubs were born this winter among the around 400-strong population of Saimaa ringed seals.

Seals have also migrated to areas not used by them for decades. Administrative measures have been taken to expand the protection areas. In practice, protection means the banning of net fishing in the spring and early summer. Cubs get easily killed if entangled in a fishing net.

Despite the temporary relief in the form of a snowy winter, the long-term prospect for the Saimaa ringed seal remains negative due to global warming. Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland keep developing man-made floating nests that seals could use if there is no snow.

Several prototypes of nests on pontoons have been tested in recent years. In the low-snow winter previously, a Saimaa ringed seal cub was born in such an artificial nest for the first time.

The Saimaa ringed seal has for decades been one of the key symbolic animals for nature conservation in Finland.