(Gmelin, 1788) - Baikal seal
The Baikal seal is essentially a population of ringed seals that evolved in reproductive isolation. Baikal seals are very similar to ringed seals, except for a few aspects of their flippers and coloration. Their foreflippers and claws are decidedly larger and stronger than those of ringed or Caspian seals.
Baikal seals have very few, if any, of the characteristic rings found on ringed seals and are normally darker above and below than either ringed or Caspian seals. Baikal seal pups are born in a whitish lanugo that is shed at 4 to 6 weeks.
The dental formula is I 3/2, C 1/1, PC 5/5.
Can be confused with
There should be no confusion; the Baikal seal does not share its range with any other pinniped species.
Measurements of Baikal seals have been taken as curvilinear lengths, which yield longer measurements than the standard lengths used for other species. Adult Baikal seals have been reported to reach approximately 1.4 m and 80 to 90 kg. Newborn pups are 64 to 66 cm in length and 4 to 4.2 kg in weight.
Baikal seals are entirely confined to Lake Baikal and its feeder streams in eastern Russia.
Biology and Behaviour
Baikal seals are similar to ringed seals in most respects. They maintain breathing and access holes in ice (the number varying by age and sex, to 11 in adult males) and use snow-covered lairs on the lake ice. Some seals share haul-out holes, but most animals are solitary. Pupping occurs from mid-February to the end of March. Newly weaned pups emerge from the lairs in April.
Baikal seals experimentally equipped with tracking instruments generally dived for 10 to 20 minutes, to depths of 50 to 200 m; the deepest dives were to 300 m. Their diet consists primarily of many varieties of freshwater fishes.
Baikal seals have been hunted since prehistoric times, and there has been a long history of commercial exploitation that continues to the present for meat and skins, with carcass remains going to feed domestic animals. There are government quotas, but poaching is common. Seals hauled out are frequently disturbed by human activities, and there was a recent outbreak of a virus causing symptoms like canine distemper.