Baikal seals are the world's only completely freshwater seal. They live around Lake Baikal in Russia, the deepest lake in the world. In winter this lake is almost completely covered in ice, and in early spring, pregnant females build ice dens in which a single pup is usually born. Life on the lake has been affected by pollution from factories situated on its shores, and Baikal seals are considered to be heavily contaminated with pollutants, possibly at levels adverse to their health.
Scientific name: Pusa sibirica
The smallest seal in the world.
The smallest seal in the world.
Bizarre and ancient life forms in the freezing depths of the world's deepest lake.
The cold here could kill someone in under a minute. The cameraman wore a dry suit and poured boiling water over his regulator before diving to stop it freezing. The seals are extremely shy, so the cameraman had to position remote cameras along a predicted route from their ice lairs. These are the first images of the Baikal seals under the ice.
The following habitats are found across the Baikal seal distribution range. Find out more about these environments, what it takes to live there and what else inhabits them.
Discover what these behaviours are and how different plants and animals use them.
Additional data source: Animal Diversity Web
Population trend: Stable
Year assessed: 2008
Classified by: IUCN 3.1
The Baikal seal, Lake Baikal seal, or nerpa (Pusa sibirica, syn. Phoca sibirica), is a species of earless seal endemic to Lake Baikal in Siberia, Russia. Like the Caspian seal, it is related to the Arctic ringed seal. The Baikal seal is the smallest of the true seals and the only exclusively freshwater pinniped species. A subpopulation of inland harbour seals living in the Hudson Bay region of Quebec, Canada (lac de loups marins harbour seals), the Saimaa ringed seal (a ringed seal subspecies) and the Ladoga seal (a ringed seal subspecies) are found in freshwater, but these are part of species that also have marine populations.
It remains a scientific mystery how the seals originally came to Lake Baikal, hundreds of kilometers from any ocean. Some scientists speculate the seals arrived at Lake Baikal when a sea-passage linked the lake with the Arctic Ocean (see also West Siberian Glacial Lake and West Siberian Plain).
The most recent population estimates are at 80,000-100,000 animals, roughly equalling the expected carrying capacity of the lake. At present the species is not considered threatened, despite hunting (both legal and illegal) and heavy pollution of the lake. The most serious future threat may be global warming, which has the potential to seriously affect a closed cold-water ecosystem such as Lake Baikal.
Take a trip through the natural world with our themed collections of video clips from the natural history archive.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.