Conservationists have succeeded in smashing a target for numbers of the rare and severely endangered Saimaa ringed seal, with more than 400 now apparently resident in eastern Finland.
Finland's state-owned forestry enterprise Metsähallitus estimates that about 410 seals currently live in the Saimaa lake region.
The Environment Ministry's protection strategy originally set out to raise the ringed real population to 400 by the year 2025, so numbers are now six years ahead of schedule.
A total of 88 Saimaa ringed seal pups were born in the 2019 mating season. More than 80 pups have been born per year for four years running.
The latest population size estimates are based on data on nest locations from 2018-2019, the number of born pups and observations of adult ringed seals sunning on the lake ice.
Seal habitat covers whole lake complex
The Saimaa ringed seal is a unique species, having diverged from other ringed seal species after the end of the most recent glacial period some 9,500 years ago. The isolated species numbered about 270 individuals in 2010, having grown more than 50 percent since then.
The seal's habitat extends all across the 4,400 square kilometre Saimaa lake district in south-east Finland. The population is very spread out, with communities of some 100 seals existing only in the Pihlajavesi and Haukivesi lakes.
Fishing restrictions, man-made snow banks in warm winters and other measures to ensure safe breeding periods have helped raise the population beyond conservationists' expectations.