Photographer Juha Taskinen continues to fight for ringed seals "as long as his flippers can wave"
By Leena Pallari
Juha Taskinen, a man well-known in Finland for his books and impressive nature photographs, could propose a solution to rescue the endangered species of the Saimaa ringed seal (Pusa hispida saimensis) from extinction.
Taskinen has spent the past 30 years among Saimaa ringed seals, and he would like to spread information on the species to all residents on the shores of the Saimaa waterway.
At present all information is veiled in mystery - like the tablets containing the Ten Commandments received by Moses on Mount Sinai, Taskinen argues.
If a cottage resident knew that a seal pup had been born on the nearby shore, he or she would most likely desist from putting nets in the water from mid-April to late June in order that the little pup would not get entangled in fishing nets.
One in two young seals loses its life every spring after having got entangled in a net, Taskinen estimates.
If a springtime ban on net fishing in the entire Saimaa area were imposed for five years, a distinct change could be seen in the ringed seal population. Instead of nets, fishers could use fish traps in which seals cannot get caught up.
Most Finns take a favourable stand toward the protection of the Saimaa ringed seal.
Nevertheless, the decision-makers are unwilling to take serious measures to restrict fishing. A recent statute set by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry continues the voluntary protection policy.
The current number of Saimaa ringed seals is 260, while the limit for immediate endangerment is 400 seals. Taskinen estimates that the Saimaa waterway could well support 6,000 ringed seals.
On Monday last week, Taskinen’s third book entitled Paluu Saimaalle (”Return to Saimaa”) came out from the press.
An earlier book on the subject Unelma Saimaasta (”A Dream about Saimaa”) was published in 1991.
It was also chosen as the best nature book of the year by WWF Finland, winning the State Award for Public Information by the Ministry of Education the same year as well.
At present, Juha Taskinen is compiling a book on White Sea Karelia (Vienan Karjala), a historical province which is mostly located on the Russian side of the border, except for minor parts of Suomussalmi and Kuhmo, both located in Finland. Taskinen spent long periods of time in the region in the 1990s.
Taskinen wrote a book entitled Laatokan seitsemän merta (”The Seven Seas of Ladoga”) on this topic already in 1998.
”My last book will be Testamentti Saimaalle (”A Testament to Saimaa”)”, Taskinen plans, saying it will be time for it when he is himself on the edge of the abyss.
When Taskinen got the inspiration, he dashed off the text for Paluu Saimaalle in a month in the autumn of 2007. The photos in the book had been taken over a period of 10 years.
Taskinen intends to continue to fight for the Saimaa ringed seal ”as long as my flippers can wave”.
Some evenings his faith may be faltering, but in the morning everything is well again after he has slept soundly in his tent surrounded by fresh air.
At present, some 20 per cent of the Saimaa waterway is covered by the net fishing ban, but the young ringed seals do not know that. They swim everywhere, visiting cities and harbours, Taskinen notes.
Apart from net fishing, the Saimaa ringed seal is facing another threat - climate change, as the mammal would need natural snowdrifts for its winter lair.
”A cottage resident could help by shovelling enough snow in ten minutes to make a proper snowdrift. The ringed seal would observe the operation from under the ice and could not care less whether the drift was man-made or whether it was formed by nature”, Taskinen urges.
Juha Taskinen is a brilliant self-taught photographer. He went only to secondary general school, and is also a farmer and a forest worker by trade. Today he makes films for a living.
Now in his 50s, Taskinen says he has read some 20 books during his entire life.
”In Antarctica I read Ingmar Bergman’s Laterna magica, and I thought that one day I will also write such a book; a shameless report on my own life”, Taskinen notes.
”The audio world disappears into space like soap bubbles, but a book is permanent; it is the dearest thing of all”, declares Taskinen.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 7.4.2009
Previously in HS International Edition:
Scattered restrictions on net fishing harm Saimaa ringed seal population (12.8.2008)
Spot that seal! (1.6.2004)
Saimaa Ringed Seal (Wikipedia)
LEENA PALLARI / Helsingin Sanomat