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SOS: Save our seals

By Fran Weaver, September 2009

Photo: Teuvo Juvonen/Vastavalo
The loss of Lake Saimaa's loveable seals would be a tragedy for Finland's nature conservation movement.

Big-name Finnish classical musicians held a special concert to raise funds for the conservation of Finland's endangered lake seals.

Nature-loving musicians performed on September 21 in Helsinki's Temppeliaukio Church. The proceeds from the "Norppa Aid" concert were donated to the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation to help protect the Saimaa ringed seal (norppa in Finnish).

This unique freshwater seal – Finland's only endemic mammal – is on the verge of extinction.

The atmospherically and acoustically blessed concert venue is well known to tourists by the nickname Rock Church, as the building has been literally carved out of the bedrock.

As important as Sibelius

Click to enlarge the picture
Harpsichordist Elina Mustonen

"As Finnish cultural representatives, we feel it is our duty to try to contribute to the seals' survival in the best way we can," says harpsichordist Elina Mustonen, who came up with the idea of the fundraising concert. "The Saimaa seal is very much part of our natural and cultural heritage. Preserving the species should be as important to us all as cherishing Jean Sibelius's music, Eino Leino's poetry, or Akseli Gallen-Kallela's paintings."

Mustonen soon found a group of like-minded musicians keen to help save the seals, including some of the top names in the field: pianist Olli Mustonen, violinist Pekka Kuusisto, baritone Petteri Salomaa and guitarist Ismo Eskelinen. The concert  featured works chosen by the performers, including Olli Mustonen's orchestrations of Leino's poems, sung by Salomaa.

Only 260 remain

Photo: Juha Taskinen/SLL
Click to enlarge the picture
This ringed seal pup got caught in a fishing net and drowned in Lake Saimaa’s Pihlajavesi area, one of the endangered seal’s most important habitats. Conservationists are pressing for stricter controls on net fishing.

Lake Saimaa's seals have successfully adapted to freshwater conditions ever since Finland's largest lake was cut off from the sea by land uplift at the end of the Ice Age. But today there are only about 260 seals left in the labyrinthine waters of this vast 4,400-square-kilometre lake system in eastern Finland.

One major factor behind their recent decline has been climate change. The seals raise their pups in dens built in the snowdrifts that cover the frozen lake each winter. In recent mild winters, fewer pups have survived due to a lack of ice and snow.

Another grave problem is that young seals can easily drown if they become entangled in fishermen's nets. Conservationists have called on the authorities to limit the use of harmful fishing equipment in the waters where the seals raise their pups.

The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation works to raise awareness of the seals' problems, and lobbies for tougher controls on fishing. The association particularly urges fishermen to avoid using nets in the springtime – often providing them with free "seal-friendly" fish traps to use instead.

By intensifying such campaigns, they hope to bring Saimaa's seals back from the brink.

More info about the Saimaa ringed seal »


Finnish Association for Nature Conservation

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