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Saimaa Seal (Phoca hispida saimensis)

Status | Taxonomy | Species Description | Habitat | Distribution |
Population Trends | Threats | Conservation Efforts | Regulatory Overview |
Key Documents | More Info
  saimaa seal
Saimaa Seal
(Phoca hispida saimensis)
Photo: Juha Taskinen



ESA Endangered - throughout its range
MMPA Depleted - throughout its range

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Phocidae
Genus: Phoca
Species: hispida
Subspecies: saimensis

The saimaa seal is a subspecies of the ringed seal (Phoca hispida).

Species Description

Saimaa seals, like other ringed seals, are short and stocky. Both males and females reach about 5 ft (1.5 m) long and 240 lbs (110 kg). Saimaa seals tend to be darker than other ringed seals. They are a dark gray or even black on their backs, with signature white or light gray rings. Their undersides are a pale cream or light gray color and have fewer, if any, rings.

Pups are born generally in March or April about one month before mating begins again. Adult males and females appear to form familial bonds during each breeding season, though males may mate with different females in different years. Their lifespan is around 25-30 years.

Their diet consists mainly of fish.

Unlike most other ringed seal species, Saimaa seals are found only in freshwater. Female Saimaa seals build lairs in snowdrifts near the shoreline rocks of the lake during breeding season.

Saimaa seal range map
Saimaa Seal Range Map
(click for larger view PDF)

Saimaa seals are found only in Lake Saimaa in eastern Finland.

Population Trends
There are only about 200-250 Saimaa seals in the world.

Historically, hunting and interactions with fisheries in the lake were a threat to this species. Today, enhanced conservation efforts and protections limit these threats, but incidental capture in fisheries--except when fisheries are prohibited during breeding season--still occurs.

Conservation Efforts
Saimaa seals are protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) and Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972. Special national parks in Finland This link is an external site. have been set up in and around Lake Saimaa to help protect the seals.

Regulatory Overview
The Saimaa seal has been protected under Finnish law since 1955. The Saimaa seal was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) in 1993. They are considered a "depleted" stock under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972.

Key Documents
(All documents are in PDF format.)

Title Federal Register Date
ESA Listing Rule 58 FR 40538 07/28/1993

More Information


  • Shirihai, H. and B. Jarrett (2006). Whales, Dolphins and Other Marine Mammals of the World. Princeton, Princeton University Press.
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