A common ‘rule of thumb' in conservation biology is that populations of more than 100 individuals are not threatened by demographic stochasticity alone. However, the effect of demographic stochasticity on population survival may be strengthened if the population has a non-homogeneous demography. A recently developed measure, the demographic effective population size ND, scales population size by taking the differential contribution of individuals into account. We exemplify the estimation of ND with the current population of the Saimaa ringed seal, comprising about 200 individuals. The estimate of ND is shown to be dependent on how independently individuals can be assumed to reproduce. Completely independent reproduction leads to ND∼ 250, suggesting a safe future for the population. However, when acknowledging the potential of breeding failure due to habitat limitation and difficulties of dispersal among the different subareas of Lake Saimaa, ND lies in an alarming range from six to 30 individuals. The effective means to increase the ND value are limited. Although subdivision itself decreases the value of ND, improving dispersal of individuals is shown to be of limited aid. Instead, the most effective way to enhance future prospects of the Saimaa seal population is to improve pup survival to maturity.