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So large that it is often mistaken for a sea, Russia's Lake Baikal is the deepest and oldest lake in the world, and the largest freshwater lake by volume. Famous for its crystal clear waters and unique wildlife, the lake is under threat by pollution, poaching and development.

Lake Baikal, Russia, at sunset. The lake contains more water than all of the North American Great ... rel= © iStockPhoto / Alexandre Zdantchouk

The pearl of Siberia
Located in south-central Siberia, not far from the Mongolian border and surrounded by mountains, forests and wild rivers, Baikal is an immense and breathtaking area of natural beauty.
Although it's not the biggest lake in the world in size - that distinction goes to the salty Caspian Sea - it is the largest by volume.

Nicknamed the Pearl of Siberia, Lake Baikal holds about 20% of the world's fresh surface water - more water than all of the North American Great Lakes combined.
Where is Lake Baikal?
Lake Baikal is highlighted in green below.

View WWF Critical Regions of the World in a larger map
Protecting the lake's natural treasures
Lake Baikal is home to more than 2,000 species of plants and animals, two-thirds of which can be found nowhere else in the world, including the Baikal omul fish and Baikal oil fish as well as the nerpa, one of the world's only freshwater species of seal.

Bears, elk, lynx and other wildlife abound in the surrounding forests and mountains.

Despite its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lake Baikal continues to come under threat from industrial pollution, agricultural run-off and other environmental problems, including nearby mining activities and potential oil and gas exploration.

The threat of an oil pipeline along the lake’s north shore was averted in 2006 thanks to efforts by WWF and many other environmental organizations.

Meet the nerpa

Baikal seal, Lake Baikal seal, or Nerpa (Pusa sibirica). It remains a scientific mystery how the seals originally came to Lake Baikal, as it is hundreds of kilometres from any ocean. © WWF
Found only in Lake Baikal, the Baikal seal (Pusa sibirica), also known as the nerpa, is one of the only freshwater seal species in the world.

It is separated by 3,220km of land and mountains from its nearest relative, the Arctic ringed seal.

Baikal seals are the only seal that lives entirely in freshwater, and can remain under water for up to 45-60 minutes. This is due to the extraordinary capacity of their blood to hold oxygen, and allows them to dive to depths of almost 300m.

Although the Baikal seal population is estimated to be over 60,000, hunting, poaching and pollution are reducing their numbers.

Facts & Figures

  • Lake Baikal is the largest freshwater lake by volume (23,600km3), containing 20% of the world's fresh water.
  • At 1,637m, it is the deepest freshwater lake in the world; the average depth is 758m.
  • It is 636km long and 81km wide; the surface area is 31,494km2.
  • The lake is estimated to be 25 million years old, making it one of the most ancient lakes in geological history.
  • More than 330 rivers flow into the lake but only one, the Angara, flows out.
  • Baikal is home to more than 2,500 species of plants and animals, 2/3 of which can be found nowhere else in the world.