The Baikal seal (Pusa sibirica) is the only purely freshwater seal species in the world, and it lives in precisely one place: Lake Baikal in Siberia. A lake which is itself extraordinary – the deepest in the world – and which is home not only to that unique seal, but to a host of other animals that occur nowhere else on Earth.
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Read on below for show notes, with plenty more on Lake Baikal and its unique wildlife, including links to some of the research mentioned in the show …
Before getting on to the main attraction – the Baikal seal and its extraordinary home – I did promise in the show to include a video here of a crazy big deep sea amphipod, so … it’s the big white beauty cruising around here (note the astonishing depth, by the way – over 6km straight down!):
Looks like a candidate for a future Wild Episode, but honestly I know almost nothing about this animal other than that it exists, so who knows?
On to a slightly more relevant video. The Baikal seal itself, along with one or two other (slightly random) wildlife characters from the area around Lake Baikal:
I don’t link to Wikipedia that often in these shownotes, but sometimes it’s hard not to: the entry on Lake Baikal has a ton of mildly mind-blowing info on what must surely be the coolest lake in the world.
When it comes to animals, as ever, the IUCN Red List entry for the Baikal seal makes a great starting point for more info.
Here’s a rather cool paper with enormous amounts of details on ancient seal hunting on Lake Baikal: Nomokonova et al., 2015, A 9,000 Year History of Seal Hunting on Lake Baikal, Siberia, PLoS One 10(5).
And follow this link to a summary (and full pdf, if you click the relevant button over there) of the study that used telemetry to track the movements of Baikal seals: Watanabe et al., 2004, Foraging Tactics of Baikal Seals Differ Between Day and Night, Marine Ecology Progress Series 279.
And, although I sort of skimmed over it in the actual show since the implications for the seal in particular are unclear, there are problems in Lake Baikal. The whole unique ecosystem is, potentially, under threat as this recent Guardian article spells out: World’s deepest lake crippled by putrid algae, poaching and pollution.
And finally, as mentioned at the end of the show, the Common Descent podcast comes with a high recommendation from me. It’s a bit more technical than The Wild Episode, but not crazily so. It’s certainly more focused on paleontology and evolution, but covers all kinds of stuff beneath that umbrella. Such as: the Domestication episode.