© Petteri Tolvanen / WWF

WWF shoveling snow to save Finland’s Saimaa ringed seal

12 February 2018

Arctic Climate Change Finland Wildlife

Winters have become warmer in Finland due to climate change, which makes nesting more difficult for the extremely endangered Saimaa ringed seal. WWF Finland is helping by building snow banks on Lake Saimaa’s ice for the seals to give birth.

The Saimaa ringed seal gives birth in a cave-like nest that it builds inside a snow bank on top of the lake’s ice. This year, just like other recent years, there has not been enough snow for the seals to build their nests.

“If the seals have to give birth on bare ice, the pups have no shelter against predators, the cold and other disturbances,” said Liisa Rohweder, CEO of WWF Finland “up to half of them could die.”

WWF Finland is helping by piling up snow on Lake Saimaa’s ice to form man-made snow banks for the seals to give birth. The operation is coordinated by Metsähallitus (Parks & Wildlife Finland) and a large group of volunteers take part in it. Last year the seals gave birth to 81 pups and 90 percent of them were born in man-made snow banks.

This year the situation is even more dire and the need for man-made snow banks is evident, as the winter has been extremely warm and the ice formed late on Lake Saimaa leaving less time for the snow to accumulate on top of it. Altogether around 280 snow banks were made.

“Although building snow banks is hard work, everyone involved from volunteers to authorities and WWF staff, is highly motivated as making these snow banks is a prime example of concrete and productive nature conservation,” Rohweder added.

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.

“It’s great we can help an endangered species like this, but at some point we have to have a viable long-term plan. This includes taking quick action on climate change,” said Rohweder.

The Saimaa ringed seal is one of the rarest seals in the world and can only be found in Lake Saimaa. WWF Finland has worked in many ways to protect the Saimaa ringed seal since 1979 and thanks to these efforts, the population previously facing extinction has been preserved and even increased. These days, the population is estimated to be around 380 individuals.

For more information contact:
Joonas Fritze
Communications Officer, WWF-Finland
+358 40 840 8500