The Nerpa or Baikal seal (Phoca sibirica) is a species of earless seal endemic to Lake Baikal, a huge freshwater lake in Siberia near the border with Mongolia). Nerpa are unique among seals in several ways:
- They and two subspecies of the Ringed Seal are the only seals to spend their whole lives in fresh water.
- They are the longest-lived of seals (up to 56 years in females).
- They feed their young on milk twice as long as other seals.
It remains a scientific mystery as to how the seals originally came to Lake Baikal, as it is hundreds of kilometres from any ocean, although it is speculated that they may have come at a time when a sea-passage linked the lake with the Arctic Ocean
The total population is estimated to be over 60,000 animals, and hunting was practiced widely in the past (officially and unofficially), but has been put under tighter restrictions recently because of declining numbers. Hunting Nerpa on frozen Lake Baikal is a dangerous activity, and many hunters drowned every year pursuing them.
Weight: 50 kg average (150 kg maximum)
Length: 1.8 m average
Food: mainly gobies and golomyanka
Litter: usually one pup, sometimes 2
Diving Time: usually 20-25 minutes (45-60 minutes maximum)