Artificial nests may help save endangered seals in Finland, say experts

Finland’s unique Lake Saimaa ringed seals are facing a major challenge to their survival as rising temperatures lead to warmer winters and less of the snow they need to build their nests.

Participants at a conference on seal conservation at the University of Eastern Finland (UEF) in Joensuu, Finland, on Thursday heard that artificial nests built by humans could save the Saimaa ringed seals, one of the world’s most endangered and rarest breeds.

Sufficient growth of the seal population must be ensured through the cooperation of various interest groups, said Krista Mikkonen, Finnish Minister for the Environment and Climate Change.

Conference coordinator Marja Niemi from the UEF told Xinhua that climate change is a serious threat to the Saimaa ringed seals. “Although the winters differ, the trend of short and mild winters is worrying for the seals,” she said.

“If snow goes, the seals will give birth on land, but then the coldness, potential predation, and disturbance can lead to high pup mortality,” she added.

In an effort to help the seals adapt, artificial nests are being developed.

The UEF is in charge of the research, while Metsahallitus, the Finnish forest and wildlife authority, is leading the conservation policy.

“Artificial nests are being tested by the university and could later be adopted by the authorities for official use,” Niemi said.

The ice-loving Saimaa ringed seal is a subspecies of the ringed seal and is only found in Lake Saimaa in Finland.

Due to human activity, the seal population decreased heavily during the 20th century, but persistent conservation measures have protected over 400 seals currently living in Lake Saimaa. However, the species is still threatened by extinction.