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Photo Gallery > The Baikal Nerpa

Lake Baikal, magnificent and incredibly beautiful, is known throughout the world. More and more people are drawn here to enjoy its severe beauty and to experience for themselves the uniqueness and preciousness of this natural creation. And all visitors dream of catching a glimpse of its only mammal, the Baikal seal, locally called nerpa, an endemic that inhabits the expanses of this inland sea.

To this day it has not been established beyond doubt where the Baikal nerpa originated. Its nearest relatives live today in the cold North Sea and southern Caspian Sea. The first scientific description of nerpa was made during the 2nd Kamchatka or Great Northern Expedition led by Vitus Bering in the 18th century. One of the teams of this expedition worked at Baikal under the leadership of I.G.Gmelin who studied many aspects of the lake and its environs and described the seal.

The Baikal nerpa (1Phoca sibirica, Gmelin 1788) - is a representative of the order of pinnepeds and the family of real (earless) seals. Nerpa spends most of its life in water, surfacing periodically to breathe. Thanks to the capacity of its blood to hold oxygen nerpa can remain under water for up to 45-60 minutes, although it usually stays there for 20-25 minutes, this is sufficient for it to catch food or escape danger. In water it can reach speeds of up to 25 kilometres an hour, but in normal circumstances it will swim at 1/2 the speed.

In winter, when Baikal is frozen over, nerpa makes escape holes in the ice. This is an inborn instinct: in an experimental aquarium one and two month old nerpa pups made holes in foam plastic, scratching them out from beneath with their claws. They then poked their noses through to breathe, despite the fact that open water was not far away.

In mid-March nerpa gives birth to one or, very occasionally, 2 pups, in snow dens on the ice. The den has the form of a half oval, sometimes of considerable length (up to 5 metres) and width (up to 3 metres), with its own microclimate and escape holes. At first the pups are yellow-green in colour, but in two weeks turn white. This white fur is the pup's camouflage, enabling it, in the first weeks of life, while it is still feeding on its mother's milk, to be practically unnoticeable on the ice. At this time the pup remains in its den not entering the water. By the time it switches on to independent feeding on fish its fur turns a silvery-grey. On the market, this fur is considered the most beautiful, hard-wearing & expensive, and for this reason such pups are the main object of hunting. The skins of adult nerpa have long been used for making clothes, mittens, boots.

The Biakal nerpa feeds its young with milk twice as long as other seals. This results in quicker growth of the pups, and in general has a favourable influence on their whole process of development, and sexual maturation. The investigations of Vladimir Dmitrievich Pastukhov have shown that the Baikal nerpa lives longer than other seals with a maximum age of 56 in females and 52 years in males. Its average weight is some 50 kilogrammes, but it can reach a maximum of 150 kg, with a length of 1.8 metres. Nerpa mainly feeds on fish with no commercial value - gobies and, especially, the Baikal endemic, golomyanka. The famous Baikal omul falls prey to nerpa by chance, and makes up no more than 1-2% of its daily ration. Omul swims too quickly for the seal, and it is only those that are weakened that are eaten. Such selection only improves the quality of the omul population.

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