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WWF moving some endangered Saimaa ringed seals to boost population

The last time conservationists undertook such an effort was in 1992.

Eduskunnan nimikkonorppa Rouva Puhemies köllöttelee kivellä.
The population of the Saimaa ringed seal now stands at an estimated 440 individuals. Image: Mervi Kunnasranta UEF
Yle News

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Finland has announced plans to relocate some members of the highly-endangered Saimaa ringed seal population to different areas of the Saimaa lake region.

"The aim of the translocation is to safeguard the growth of the Saimaa ringed seal population by supporting areas with declined ringed seal numbers and maintaining the remaining genetic diversity," the WWF said in a statement.

The effort will be the first of its kind attempted in more than 30 years. It will involve moving about five ringed seals from the Pihlajavesi area roughly 60 km north to Kolovesi National Park as well as to a section of Lake Saimaa south of Puumala.

Saimaa ringed seals have been translocated before, in 1992, when a ringed seal named Venla was moved from Haukivesi to southern Saimaa in order to bolster a declining population. Venla now has descendants among several generations, proving the benefits of the scheme, WWF noted.

"The seal population in southern Lake Saimaa has grown relatively more strongly, partly thanks to the translocation," WWF Regional Manager Ismo Marttinen said.

There are currently an estimated 440 ringed seals living in the waters of Lake Saimaa, up from just around 100 in the 1980s. That growth was largely due to conservation efforts.

However, although the population has grown, genetic studies have shown that a large proportion of the population are quite closely related as the animals can become segregated into smaller sub-populations with typical genetic versions that only occur within these specific areas.

Therefore, different parts of lake Saimaa are home to seals with individual genetic variants that are not found in seals living in other parts of the lake — which does not bode well for the species' survival.

"Translocations allow a genetically poor sub-population to recover characteristics that are good in terms of survival in the long term," Petri Auvinen, a Research Director at the University of Helsinki, explained.

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