A subspecies of Ringed seal (Pusa hispida), the beautiful Saimaa ringed seal owes its name to its home, Lake Saimaa in Lakeland, Finland, where the only existing isolated population of these seals is found. Being one of the very few species of marine mammals to live in freshwater, and one of the only three species of seals to live exclusively in a lake, this species was separated from its sea relatives thousands of years ago when land rose after the last Ice Age.
The Saimaa ringed seal is among the most threatened species (protected since 1955), catalogued officially as 'Endangered' by the IUCN Red List of threatened species and with only 139-150 mature individuals (half of the endemic population) left. It is constantly facing growing threats, such as high mortality due to fishing gear and global warming.
This species may grow up to 132cm and weigh up to 124kg, males being slightly larger than females. Their round body is covered by a ring-patterned fur coat characteristic of ringed seals: dark grey with cream-coloured rings. Its rounded head and adorable big eyes make it seem even more vulnerable.
Pupping season goes from February to March and breeding season from late March–early April. They are easier to see during early summer (May-June) when they start moulting on lakeshore rocks. This species is perfectly suited to live in the icy winter conditions of Finland, as it has a very thick blubber layer, it uses its claws to make breathing holes through the ice layer (can remain submerged over 20mins) and it even builds lairs (small caves) in the snow on top of the ice, needed by their white-coat pups to survive the winter.
The species, the basking sites and its winter lairs are protected under the Nature Conservation Act.