Home range, survival, and dispersal of endangered Saimaa ringed seal pups: Implications for conservation



Lake Saimaa in eastern Finland is inhabited by a critically endangered ringed seal subspecies Pusa hispida saimensis. Since accidental mortality in gill nets, resulting in reduced pup survival, is considered to be the main factor contributing to the decline in its population, fishing restriction areas have been established. In this study, 10 pups were located daily using very high frequency (VHF) telemetry to estimate their home ranges, movements, and survival. The pups dispersed after weaning at the age of ca. 3 mo and moved up to 15 km a day between consecutive locations and up to 25 km away from their birth sites. The home ranges of the pups at the age of 3–4 mo were variable in size, from 3 to 162 km2. The pups preferred the same shallow water areas (<6 m) that were used for gill net fishing. The annual fishing restrictions covered an average of 83% of the pups’ home ranges. Four of the pups were nevertheless killed in fishing gear. The results have implications for Saimaa ringed seal management and conservation. For instance, large home ranges of pups and the long distances movements should be taken into account when zoning shore use and imposing fishing restrictions.