Ringed Seal Research

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Ringed Seal Research

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The Conservation research of the Saimaa ringed seal investigates scientifical arguments for the Saimaa ringed seal conservation work and studies the behavioural ecology of Saimaa ringed seal: habitat use, movements, activity in different time of day, the effects of human caused disturbance and the effects of climate change. Ringed seal research keeps up the Saimaa ringed seal tissue bank.

The scientists responsible for this research are Marja Niemi and Markku Viljanen. Other members of the research team are: Hannu Huuskonen and Paula Kankaala.


Behaviour and ecology

The main focus of the research rests on studying the behavioural ecology of the Ringed Seal during
the ice-covered season and on measuring the effects of ice, snow and weather conditions on pup
condition and survival. Further, the movements and dispersal behaviour of young seals after
weaning and during their first summer will be studied.

The main method is underwater (under ice) monitoring of behaviour by radio tags, hydrophones and
video cameras. Radio-telemetric studies were first started in 1990, and they have produced a lot of
new information on the behaviour and ecology of the Saimaa Ringed Seal. In addition to satellite
and VHF-transmitters, some individualized flipper signs have also been used. This study will apply
and further develop new methods of capturing seals and those of telemetric tracking (e.g. based on GPS/GSM technologies)
for both adults and juveniles.

The studies have revealed e.g. that the seals dive ca. 80% of the time, and they also sleep while
diving. An average dive lasts from 4 to 7 minutes and the seal goes down to 10-16 metres depth.
An adult Saimaa Ringed Seal is rather loyal to its habitat, which makes it even more sensitive to
environmental changes. The most actively used territory in summers is ca. 3 km2, only younger
individuals use a larger area. The Saimaa Ringed Seal uses shore rocks not only for moulting but
also for resting outside the moulting season, which emphasises the need to protect the shores as well.

Knowledge of the behavioural patterns of the Saimaa Ringed Seal are considered to be of vital
importance for understanding the unique adaptation traits developed during the isolation in the
labyrinthine lake conditions.

Other research

Along with the studies on ecology and behaviour, a lot of other basic data on the Saimaa Ringed
Seal has been collected at the University. Systematic collection of available seal carcase material
has enabled diverse structural studies (morphological, physiological, genetic).

Studies on the vertical stratification pattern of fatty acids in the blubber of ringed seal have revealed
chemically distinct layers (outer, middle and inner). The fatty acid composition in each layer is
likely to reflect the different functions of blubber. The function of outer blubber is mainly structural
and thermoregulatory and the fatty acid composition was quite uniform between individuals.
Contrary to the outer blubber, the fatty acid composition of the inner blubber layer showed
considerable individual variation, probably due to the high metabolic activity of this layer. The third
layer in between acts mainly as an energy storage site that expands and contracts with food
availability and consumption. Despite the general similarity of the stratification pattern of fatty
acids in the blubber of the studied seals, the detailed vertical fatty acid profiles (VFAP) show
variation that may result from individual differences in their foraging ecology and energy balance.

Modern and innovative studies on seal anatomy have been carried out by magnetic imaging, which
enables to examine the inner structure of the seal without cutting the body. The results provide new
information e.g. on the causes of death, body structure and functions.

International research cooperation

Some studies on the behaviour of the Ringed Seal and toxic loads discovered in the species have
also been conducted in Lake Ladoga, Russia, where another lake inhabiting subspecies
of the Ringed Seal has a much larger population. Some physiological research has been performed in
cooperation with German and Norwegian researchers, and new bio-monitoring methods have been
developed together with Norwegian and Russian colleagues.

Large Lakes Research
University of Joensuu
Faculty of Biosciences
Ecological Research Institute
Ei minua varten tarvii keittää... :cb:

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