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Meet Lake Baikal's unique freshwater Nerpa seal

12:35 PM Mar 03, 2023 IST | groundreportdesk
meet lake baikal s unique freshwater nerpa seal

Lake Baikal is the largest and most deep freshwater lake in the world and contains more water than all the great lakes of North America together. Originally from the lake whose name carries, the Baikal seal is the only seal exclusively of fresh water in the world.

World’s only freshwater seal

The world’s only freshwater seal is known as the Baikal seal, also called the Nerpa. It is found exclusively in Lake Baikal, which is located in Russia and is the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume.


Baikal seals are relatively small, with males growing up to 1.5 meters (5 feet) in length and females growing up to 1.3 meters (4.3 feet) in length. They have dark gray or brown fur, with a lighter gray underbelly. Baikal seals have webbed feet, which they use for swimming and diving.

Baikal seals feed mainly on fish, but also consume crustaceans and other small aquatic animals. They can dive to depths of up to 300 meters (1,000 feet) and can stay underwater for up to 70 minutes.


Baikal seals are an important part of the ecosystem of Lake Baikal, and are considered a keystone species. They help to regulate the population of fish in the lake, and are preyed upon by other animals, such as the Siberian tiger.

They help to regulate the population of fish and other aquatic animals. As predators, freshwater seals play an important role in maintaining the balance of the food web in freshwater ecosystems.


World freshwater seal. Source: Flickr

Threats due to human activity

However, Baikal seals are currently facing threats due to human activity. Pollution, overfishing, and habitat destruction are all putting pressure on the population of Baikal seals.

In addition, the construction of dams and other hydroelectric projects on the rivers that flow into Lake Baikal could also have a negative impact on the seal population.


Efforts are underway to protect the Baikal seals and their habitat. The Russian government has designated the lake and its surrounding area as a protected natural area, and several conservation organizations are working to promote sustainable fishing practices and reduce pollution in the lake.

Interesting facts about freshwater seal

  • Baikal seals are also known as Nerpa, which is the Russian name for the species.
  • They are one of the smallest seals in the world, with adult males weighing between 50 and 130 kg (110 to 290 lbs) and females weighing between 40 and 55 kg (88 to 121 lbs).
  • Baikal seals have a unique adaptation to living in freshwater. They have specialized kidney that allows them to filter out excess salt from their bodies and excrete it in their urine.
  • Baikal seals are capable of staying underwater for up to 70 minutes and can dive to depths of up to 300 meters (1,000 feet).
  • They have a thick layer of blubber that helps to insulate them in the cold water of Lake Baikal. This layer can make up to 20% of their total body weight.
  • Baikal seals are important predators in the lake, helping to regulate the population of fish and other aquatic animals.
  • They are social animals and can be found in groups of up to 60 individuals.
  • The Baikal seal is a protected species under Russian law, and hunting or disturbing them is prohibited.
  • Baikal seals are an important cultural symbol in the region and are featured on the coat of arms of the Irkutsk Oblast, the Russian federal subject where Lake Baikal is located.
  • Due to their unique characteristics and the threats they face, Baikal seals are considered to be an important flagship species for freshwater conservation efforts.

Freshwater seal population

The population of Baikal seals, also known as nerpa, in Lake Baikal is estimated to be between 60,000 and 100,000 individuals.

The population has been relatively stable over the past few decades, with some fluctuations due to natural factors such as changes in prey availability and breeding success.

Are Baikal seals dangerous?

Baikal seals are generally not considered to be dangerous to humans. They are shy and elusive animals that tend to avoid interactions with people.

While Baikal seals are wild animals and may bite if they feel threatened or cornered, they are not typically aggressive towards humans.

In fact, there are several locations around Lake Baikal where tourists can observe Baikal seals in their natural habitat, either from the shore or from boats, without any significant risk to their safety.

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