Baikal: Who lives in the lake?
Baikal is a unique place in Siberia. Twice. Firstly, it is the deepest lake in the world. Secondly, Baikal is a lake in which an incredible number of unique species of animals and plants live. Get to know them?
Let’s meet Baikal
For those who for some reason still haven’t heard anything about Baikal, I can say: you will fail to see such a beautiful lake anywhere in the world. Neither in summer nor in winter. Especially in winter!
This is a lake of tectonic origin in the southern part of Eastern Siberia. It’s the deepest lake on the planet, and it’s fresh. Yes, you can literally drink Baikal! Perhaps this is why endemic animals and plants inhabit the lake. FYI: endemic species are species that are not found anywhere else on the planet.
Geolocation: Buryatia, Irkutsk Region
Dimensions: 636 km in length, 80 km in width
Lake area: 31,722 sq. km
Maximum depth: 1642 m
Average depth: 744 m
Water transparency: up to 40 m
In addition to being the deepest lake in the world, it is also huge. Just imagine, in terms of the area, it is approximately like Belgium or the Netherlands! The lake was even included in the list of 213 natural sites that UNESCO recognized as a World Heritage of natural origin. There is nothing surprising in the fact that more than 1000 unique animals live in Baikal. Just look at them!
Baikal nerpa (seal)
Nerpa is the only mammal that inhabits Lake Baikal. It is one of three species of freshwater seals, who have lived here for 20 000 years. How exactly the seal got into Baikal is not known. The scientists believe that they came along the channel of the current Angara and Yenisei rivers after the Ice Age. Since then, the evolution of the Baikal nerpa has passed by itself, separately from the rest of the seals.
In total, up to 120,000 goals of nerpas are counted in Baikal. These are rather big guys! Of the “growth”, that is, the length of the body, on average 165 cm, and weight reaches 130 kg, while the females are larger than males. It’s all about a thick layer of subcutaneous fat, which helps these fatties survive even in a frozen lake. Their element – water, seals are almost helpless on ice and on land. However, they cannot be called cool swimmers; usually, they swim no faster than 10 km/h.
Their powerful flippers are able to cut through the thick ice of Lake Baikal, so they manage to dive to a depth of 400 m and hold their breath for 40 minutes. Seal food is small fish, mollusks, crustaceans. They don’t get large fish just because nerpas too lazy.
At the end of winter, seals go on the ice for breeding and molting. At this time, they can be observed and even photographed. In mid-March, seals give birth to white furry cubs, which are difficult to distinguish in the snow. If you get to Lake Baikal during this period, you have a chance to take a lot of cool photos of these clumsy, but insanely beautiful animals!
The Baikal omul belongs to the whitefish family (the salmon family). On average, omul has a size of up to 50 cm, and weight – from 500 grams to 1.5 kg, but occasionally there are real giants weighing up to 7 kg!
Omul is a valuable commercial fish, which means that it is incredibly tasty. Baikal omul is a real delicacy! However, there is a small problem … the Baikal omul turned out to be such a delicious fish that poaching has reached the point where this fish began to face extinction. Unfortunately, in the next three years, this species is unlikely to be possible to try – on Baikal, there is a ban on catching omul up to 2021.
We hope that the authorities will again be able to restore the abundance of Baikal omul and allow it to be caught. This fish is a real attraction of Baikal for any gourmet!
Golomyanka is another of the endemic animals of Lake Baikal. This is an absolutely unique fish for Russia, not because of it’s amazing appearance. The body of the golomyanka is 35% of fat, which allows it to do without a swimming bladder. Moreover, it has no scales! This almost transparent fish is viviparous – at one time it can give birth to up to 2000 fry. This is super weird since only some tropical fish species can.
Golomyanka is small, up to 25 cm in length. People usually do not catch it for food, but seals do it with pleasure. After all, this is their favorite food.
The fish lives at great depths, up to 500 m, to catch it seals dive so deep. Therefore, this fish was discovered recently. Nevertheless, for a very long time, people used golomyanka’s fat making candles from it. Its useful properties were widely used in traditional Asian medicine.
We know why you dream of visiting Lake Baikal – because of the crystal clear water! In winter, walking on the ice of the lake is quite scary, because it is transparent, so it seems that under your feet there is a real abyss from the water.
Baikal owes its incredible purity to another of its unique inhabitants. This is a modest Baikal sponge, which recently began to be attributed to living creatures. Сolonies of freshwater Lubomirskia baicalensis are long, narrow, branched trunks, usually growing vertically. In some ways, they resemble corals.
In the body of the sponges live microscopic green algae and feeds this “family” well due to constant water filtration. So it catches microorganisms, at the same time turning Baikal water clean. In one day, one small colony of Lubomirskia can clear several tons of liters of water!
Soft in water, in the air, this creature hardens. In addition, the Baikal sponge creates a unique landscape of the lake bottom.
And what about the shore?
The shores of Lake Baikal, for the most part, are protected areas. There are many animals here – maybe not as many as at the bottom of the lake, but also enough. As in Lake Baikal itself, the forests around the lake are full of unique animals that are nowhere to be found.
For example, a rare Barguzin sable, that lives here, is listed in the Red Book. Its brilliant dark fur distinguishes sable, and this is what is valuable. The Baikal forests inhabit bears, foxes, hares, Siberian wolves, as well as the rare Siberian cat manul – yes, the same cat that you saw in the memes!
Many animals are allowed to be hunted here, mainly game and fur animals, but many of them are also hunted for meat. Bear, wolf, fox, hare, wolverine, weasel, tarbagan, weasel, squirrel, red deer, musk deer, elk, wild boar, lynx, marmot, sable and wild goat… it is not surprising that many locals bent for hunting.
In addition to the birds that inhabit any forest, there are fishermen on Lake Baikal, as the lake is full of fish. For example, here live black cormorant, white-headed golden eagle, and seagulls, swans and ducks that stay for the winter by the lake and bask in the waters of the Angara.
Now you can realize how rich Baikal is.
We might come to cross some of these representatives of the Lake flora and fauna on our Lake Baikal tour.
This post is written by Denis Bets