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WWF digs a safe home for endangered freshwater seals

A pregnant Saimaa ringed seal

An endangered population of freshwater seals in Finland recently received a lifeline from volunteers in the form of human-made snowbanks.

Lake Saimaa ringed seals need snow to build the lairs in which they give birth. They need the lairs to protect offspring from the cold, predators, and human disturbance. But over the past several years, the snow cover in the region has not been deep enough to create those lairs.

Volunteers working with WWF and Metsähallitus (Parks and Wildlife Finland) spent several days on the lake building snowbanks for the seals to 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 were born in these artificial drifts.”

WWF Finland funded a research project to innovate and test the human-made snow banks for seals, and scientists at the University of Eastern Finland carried out the work. 

The plight of the Lake Saimaa seals is a hallmark of what may happen in other parts of the Arctic as the planet warms. For the third consecutive year, we experienced the hottest year on record in 2016. Climate change is the biggest threat to the survival of wildlife—such as polar bears and seals—that depends on sea ice to hunt, breed, and rest.

WWF works with government leaders, businesses, and communities around the world to shift to clean, renewable energy; help people and ecosystems adapt to rapid change; and reduce the carbon emissions that drive climate change.