Volunteers working with WWF and Metsähallitus (Parks & Wildlife Finland) have spent the past few days on the ice of Lake Saimaa in Finland helping an endangered population of freshwater seals to survive. The Lake Saimaa ringed seals need snow to build the lairs where they give birth, but the past few years have not provided deep enough snow cover for those lairs. To compensate, volunteers working with WWF and Metsähallitus have built up snow banks the seals can use.
“There are only 360 of the seals left,” said Liisa Rohweder, CEO of WWF Finland. “Without this help, up to half of the pups could die. When we have made these mounds before, almost all of the pups born were in these artificial drifts.”
The first snow banks built for seals were innovated and tested as a part of a research project funded by WWF Finland and carried out by scientists at the University of Eastern Finland.
The plight of the Lake Saimaa seals is a foretaste of what may happen in other parts of the Arctic. The last three years were the warmest on record, and Arctic sea ice continues to shrink in extent and volume, shrinking habitat for life that relies on the ice.
“We really appreciate the help of the volunteers,” added Rohweder, “but we can only take these stop-gap measures for so long. At some point, we have to have a viable long-term plan. This includes taking quick action on climate change, and working out how we best conserve the spaces where ice-dependent populations can persist.”