Finland: Weak ice forces seals north in search of denning grounds

YLE NewsEye on the Arctic
Poor ice cover has Baltic Sea ringed seals heading north to find dens in the Bay of Bothnia, between Finland and Sweden. ilovegreenland / flickr

Unusually poor ice cover has forced large numbers of ringed seals to look for denning spots in the northernmost reaches of the Bay of Bothnia, between Sweden and Finland.

The far north of the Bay of Bothnia offers seals the best denning conditions in the Baltic Sea.

Satellite monitoring indicates that this past winter, older adults spent time moving along the edge of the ice cover between the narrow region leading into the Bay of Bothnia and its northern reaches. Most juveniles ranged in much more limited areas.

Only the far northern parts of the bay have ice cover now. Normally, the entire bay is frozen over during the seals’ breeding season in February and March.

On the other side of the country near Savonlinna, Tuomo Henttonen recently spotted a rare sight -- a Saimaa seal on the ice nursing her pup.

Any Saimaa ringed seal itself is a rarity. One of the few species of freshwater seals in the world, it is found only in parts of Finland’s Saimaa lake district. Said to be the world’s most endangered seal, there are thought to be only 300 of them.

Henttonen spotted the mother-pup pair at a distance of around 330 feet and took a photograph using his binoculars as a telephoto lens.

He told Yle that he is familiar with the mother, who has denned in the area for a number of years.

“The pup was on the ice all day and its mother came and went,” relates Henttonen. “Even though the mother seal is an old friend after so many years close to my cottage, I’ve never managed to see her nursing a pup before. A plump little fellow, it looks to be, maybe around 10 kilos (22 pounds).”

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.