Winters are warmer in Finland due to climate change, which makes nesting more difficult for the extremely endangered Saimaa ringed seal. That’s why we grabbed our shovels and headed out to Lake Saimaa to help.
The Saimaa seal gives birth in a cave-like nest that it builds inside a snow bank on top of the lake’s ice. This year, and recent years past, there has not been enough snow for the seals to build their nests. This is a problem for the species: if the seals give birth on bare ice the pups have no shelter against predators, the cold and other disturbances. Up to half of them could die.
Luckily we can help.
WWF Finland piled up snow on Lake Saimaa’s ice to form man-made snow banks for the seals to give birth. The operation was coordinated by Metsähallitus (Parks & Wildlife Finland) and a large group of volunteers took part in it. The shoveling started in late January and the operation lasted a few weeks. Altogether around 280 snow banks were made.
Building the snow banks is hard work. The banks need to be big: the ideal is 3-feet-high, 10-feet-wide, and 26-feet-long. The larger they are, the longer they last, sheltering the pups into the spring.
A lot of sweat was shed but everyone involved knew it was well worth the effort: making these snow banks is a prime example of concrete and productive nature conservation. Last year the seals gave birth to 81 pups and 90 percent of them were born in man-made snow banks. The support from public around the world has also been amazing.
The Saimaa ringed seal is one of the rarest seals on the planet and can only be found in Lake Saimaa. WWF Finland has worked in many ways to protect the species since 1979 and thanks to these efforts, the population previously facing extinction is being preserved and has even increased. These days, the population is estimated to be around 380 individuals.
It’s clear that in the long-term the best way to help the seals is to fight climate change. In the meantime, the Saimaa ringed seal can bank on our help!
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As WWF’s Arctic and Bering Sea program officer, Elisabeth Kruger connects the dots between polar bears, climate change, and Indigenous communities. She leads WWF’s efforts to help polar bears and other Arctic marine mammals coexist alongside people in an increasingly warmer and ice-free Arctic.