Lake Baikal

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Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russian Federation.
© WWF / Marek LIBERSKY

About the Area

Due to 25 million years of isolation and a diversity of deep-water habitats, the biodiversity of Lake Baikal - the deepest lake in the world - is unrivaled. It is so large that it has been called an inland sea. Lake Baikal is located in the south of Eastern Siberia, in the Buryat Autonomous Republic and the Region of Irkutsk, Russia.

It covers 31,500 sq. km and is 636 km. long, an average of 48 km wide, and 79.4 km at its widest point. Its water basin occupies about 557,000 sq. km. and contains about 23,000 cu. km. of water, that is, about one fifth of the world's reserves of fresh surface-water and over 80 per cent of the fresh water in the former Soviet Union. Its average depth is 730 m. and its maximum depth in the middle - 1,620 m.

Among the lake's many habitats are recently discovered hydrothermal vents at a depth of about 400 meters that support sponges, bacterial mats, snails, transparent shrimp, and fish. There are about 2,500 species of known plants and animals in the lake, of which 1,500 are endemic.

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Size:
123,000 sq. km (48,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Large Lakes

Geographic Location:
Central Asia: Eastern Russia

Conservation Status:
Vulnerable
Local Species
The water here is crystal clear and pure due to unique underwater reefs of living sponges that filter bacteria and algae from the water, and support a great diversity of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and other invertebrates.

Oxygen circulates to greater depths in Lake Baikal than other lakes, so creatures can survive even in very deep water. The amazing aquatic diversity of the lake includes 147 species of snails, 255 species of shrimp-like amphipod species, and 80 species of flatworm.

Several large endemic fish inhabit deeper waters and form part of the prey base of the endemic Baikal seal (Phoca sibirica), the only entirely landlocked seal species in the world. Lake Baikal's fish are distinguished by a "flock" of 36 species in the sculpin family Cottidae, an endemic family (Comephoridae), and distinct stocks of Coregonus, Thymallus, and Lota species.

Featured species

Baikal seal (Phoca sibirica)

Adult Baikal seals measure 1.2-1.4m in length and weigh 63-70kg, the males slightly larger than the females. Pups normally measure about 65cm in length and weigh about 4kg at birth. Females reach sexual maturity at 3-6 years of age, males at 4-7 years. Baikal seals have been known to dive for as long as 43 minutes. It has been estimated that adult males can live up to 52 years of age, females to 56 years.

The Baikal seal, one of the world's smallest pinnipeds, is in fact the only pinniped species that lives solely in freshwater. Individuals are also sometimes found wandering up the rivers surrounding the Lake, one seal having been found 400km upstream.

Pupping takes place on the Lake Baikal ice from February to March, the pups being born in lairs that have been hollowed out on the fast ice. Baikal seals maintain breathing and haulout holes in the ice, adults usually maintaining one main hole and several auxiliary holes, juveniles usually only a solitary hole.

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Threats
Although industrial development is significant, natural habitats are not as highly fragmented as in other regions of Russia. Major threats stem from industrial pollution, forest clearance, fires, agriculture, and grazing.
WWF’s work

Environmental Policy for Oil and Gas Extraction
This WWF project is designed to advance sound environmental policies by oil and gas companies operating in Russia. It should increase transparency, bring conservation issues to the attention of the senior managers of these companies and improve environmental performance.

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