Bear suspected of killing endangered ringed seal pup
Bear tracks lead to ringed seal den in Pihlajavesi
A bear is suspected of having killed a Saimaa ringed seal pup in Pihlajavesi’s Siikavesi about two weeks ago.
“Clear bear tracks led to a ringed seal hole that was located on the bank of an island. Also, there was plenty of pup hair and blood in the snow”, explains local farmer Arto Mikkonen from Savonlinna’s Kiviapaja.
Mikkonen, a fishing and hunting enthusiast, says that already last winter he noticed some bear tracks following the contours of the shores and headlands.
“In similar fashion, a bear had searched for ringed seal dens also this spring after having woken up from the winter sleep”, Mikkonen notes.
In Mikkonen’s opinion fishermen are needlessly often blamed for the deaths of baby seals. “I have observed that bears and wolves alike have a taste for ringed seal pups.”
Conservation biologist Tero Sipilä of Metsähallitus, a state enterprise that administers more than 12 million hectares of state-owned land and water areas, does not consider it unthinkable that a bear could have surprised a seal pup on the lake ice near the island shore.
“Another, perhaps even likelier alternative, is that the seal pup had died in its nest and the bear found it there”, Sipilä says.
Young ringed seal individuals that have died in their cubbyholes are found nearly every spring. Because of draining off, the water level in the complex Saimaa lake system can fall considerably each spring, causing the holes to collapse and the young seals to venture out into the open prematurely.
Studies show that the seal pups’ fatality rate has been particularly high in such years when the cubbyholes have collapsed early on.
The ringed seal pups leave their nest in February-March, when bears are still asleep.
”Also, a bear, just like a polar bear, can specialise in preying on the ringed seals and their young”, says senior research scientist Ilpo Kojola of the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute.
“A bear is dexterous enough to easily adopt new methods of acquiring food. Earlier this spring, two bears visited bird tables in Ruovesi, feasting on the seeds and tallow balls meant for birds.”
Previously in HS International Edition:
Photographer Juha Taskinen continues to fight for ringed seals "as long as his flippers can wave" (14.4.2009)
Scattered restrictions on net fishing harm Saimaa ringed seal population (12.8.2008)
Minister Anttila promises serious measures to protect ringed seals if need be (15.4.2009)
Saimaa Ringed Seal (Wikipedia)
Tero Sipilä: Conservation biology of Saimaa ringed seal