Seal invasion in Yamal

In summer 2012, the field team of Labytnangi Ecological Research Station conducted their 14th field season to study Erkuta river basin in southern Yamal. Together with colleagues from Norway and USA, we repeated our annual experiments concerning terrestrial ecosystems with lemmings, arctic foxes, peregrines etc. However, our most striking finding from last summer’s field trip comes from marine ecosystems: several bearded and ringed seals swam upstream the river from their main habitat on the sea shore -as far as 60 km- in June, and stayed there all the summer!

Bearded seal at the sand beach of Erkuta river. Photo by A. Sokolov.

Necessary to say, that since 1999 our field team has spent 30-90 days at Erkuta every summer.  We have used motor-boats quite intensively, and we’ve never seen any seals on the rivers before. Reindeer herders from the area -our friends Nenets family Laptander- say that some seals go upstream the rivers, but not earlier than in September, and never in June, never so far from the sea, and never so numerous.

Two youngest members of the field team Erkuta’12 –Nikita and Ilya Sokolov (7 and 4 years old, respectively) observe a bearded seal from the boat in Erkuta river. Photo by I. Fufachev.

We are now wondering whether the unusually early ice melt on Baydaratskaya Bay in June (satellite data from http://nsidc.org) or recent industrial development (starting pipeline on the bottom of Baydaratskaya Bay) or both are behind this unusual event. Obviously, such invasion by the seals can potentially influence the “inland biodiversity” and change its structure. Our observations, therefore, also underline the importance of long-term and non-stop multi-annual surveys in the same areas.

Best wishes,

A.Sokolov and Erkuta 2012 field team

Labytnangi Ecological Research Station,

Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District, Russian Federation

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