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EU grants €5.3m to protect rare Saimaa seals

The funds will go to measures such as building artificial dens to allow the seals to breed during snowless winters.

Kuvassa on saimaannorppa Savonlinnassa.
This Saimaa ringed seal was spotted in Savonlinna last May. Image: Juha Metso / AOP

The EU has granted Finland more than five million euros to protect the highly endangered Saimaa ringed seals.

The funds will go to measures such as building artificial dens to allow the seals to breed during snowless winters.

The 5.3 million euros from the EU’s LIFE programme will make up most of the 7.1-million-euro budget of a new five-year conservation project led by the state forest agency Metsähallitus. Yle, the Environment Ministry and the Regional Council of South Karelia are also among the partners in the project.

The Saimaa seals, one of the world’s rarest seal species, are only found in eastern Finland’s lake district. Their population is slowly recovering after near-extinction in the 1980s. There are now around 420-430 of the rare seals, of which roughly half are able to reproduce. In recent years, more than 80 pups have been born annually.

Seal habitat on Unesco World Heritage List?

Metsähallitus says the aim of the project is to "prevent and minimise the problems affecting the Saimaa seal stock due to climate change, fishing, human disturbance and the small size of the population".

Protective measures are to include the development of seal-safe fishing equipment, the creation of man-made dens for winters with little snow, research into new ways to identify individuals through photography, and raising public awareness of the plight of the seals and ways to help protect them.

There will also be studies of the Saimaa seals’ genome and into whether individuals should be relocated to other parts of the massive Saimaa lake system in order to diversify the gene pool locally. If so, this would only be done with the animals’ current range, though.

Last week Environment Minister Krista Mikkonen (Green) said Finland will nominate the islands forming the Saimaa seal habitat for inclusion on the Unesco World Heritage List.

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