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Saimaa ringed seal pups drown in nets after fishing ban lifted

The two people who found the pups in their fishing nets were said to be very sorry about what had happened.

Saimaannorpat köllöttelevät luodoilla karvanvaihtoaikaan toukokuussa.
This Saimaa ringed seal was photographed last year at Haukivesi lake, which is part of the Saimaa lake system. Image: Petri Vironen / Yle

Two Saimaa ringed seal pups were found dead at the Pihlajavesi lake in southeastern Finland, according to state-owned parks and wildlife management firm Metsähallitus.

Both of the pups had drowned in fishing nets, Metsähallitus biologist Jouni Koskela said, right after an annual ban on the use of nets had ended. This fishing net ban ended on the same day the first pup was found, 1 July.

He said that the pup found on Monday was a female and born last winter, while the other one was male and discovered Tuesday.

Pihlajavesi is the second-largest body of water in the Saimaa lake system - home to one of the world's most endangered and rarest subspecies, the Saimaa ringed seal.

The two individuals who were collecting their nets from the lake had notified authorities on their own, Koskela said.

He told news service STT that both of them were very sorry for what had happened.

"Neither of them thought that a seal could get stuck in their nets," Koskela told STT.

"Fishing with nets is permitted in July, but people are asked to avoid using them around known seal nesting areas," Koskela explained.

Population gradually growing

Several decades ago the ringed seal population dropped to as few as 100, but thanks to conservation efforts - including the springtime ban on fishing nets - their numbers have grown to an estimated 400.

Despite the recent deaths, Koskela said that the ringed seal population appears to be growing in Pihlajavesi lake, saying that it is one of the few areas in which more seal pups were born than in previous years.

Around 80-90 pups are estimated to be born in the region every year but the biologist said that 60 of the young seals die annually, as well. In recent times Metsähallitus regularly receives notice of just over 30 dead seals per year.

"It's estimated that we're notified of about 40 percent of ringed seal deaths," Koskela explained.

During the spring Metsähallitus counted a total of 67 live pups, which is less than in recent years, but weak ice conditions on the lake prevented a proper count being carried out.

Koskela said very few pups perished this season, saying that the large amount of snow cover this past winter provided excellent nesting conditions.

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