Baikal Seal

Episode 115 – Baikal Seal: The Seal with a Bubble Buddy

“And today we’re talking about a seal that can play the saxophone! But not really! But not much more on that later.”

Lake Baikal stretches across southern Siberia and it contains enough water to exceed all of the Great Lakes combined. It’s so large and deep, it’s said to be a leading candidate for the Earth’s next ocean, as it continues to grow. For now, it’s freshwater shores and depths are a home to a variety of plants and animals. But what happens when this immense inland sea freezes over with six feet of ice. The winter always requires the best of every species, but in this unique ecosystem, one marine mammal uses persistence and ingenuity to thrive in this otherwise inhospitable season. But that’s what it takes to survive freezing temperatures in Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We have a no new measure up intro this week. So we get to hear from an animal and Carlos has to guess what it is!

  1. Screech owl
  2. Mountain Lion
  3. Polecat
  4. Tortoise 

Length

  • 1.1–1.4 m (3 ft 7 in–4 ft 7 in)
  • 4 feet
  • How many Baikal seals go into the record ice thickness of Lake Vida?
  • Hint: Lake Vida sees the thickest non-glacial ice on Earth. The lake is located in Antarctica and it’s thickened as meltwater collects on the frozen ice and freezes again.
  • Answer: 22.15 seals. The ice is 27 m (88.6 ft) thick.

Weight

  • 63 to 70 kg (139 to 154 lb)
  • 154 lbs
  • How many of the average equipment loads that a navy seal carries go into the weight baikal seal?
  • Hint: A seal’s equipment load largely depends on the mission. Extensive surveillance missions might require heavier loads. However, we’re looking for the high end of the average load for a short term mission. Typical equipment includes weapons, ammo, armor, goggles, climbing gear, and communication equipment.
  • 3.85 equip loads. Seals carry as much as 40 lbs on average for short missions. 

Major Fact

The baikal seals live in the largest lake by volume in the world. 

  • It’s so big, it contains 22 percent of the world’s surface freshwater.
  • It’s the deepest lake in the world. 
  • It’s also cold in winter months, dipping below 0 degrees fahrenheit. (-14 C).
  • The surface of the lake freezes for up to five months out of the year. 
  • The ice can be as thick as 0.5 to 1.4 m (1.6–4.6 ft).

So how do seals live in a water that completely freezes for nearly half the year?

  • They rely on the water for protection and food. 
  • So while the ice is still thin, they break holes in it for easy access to the water.
  • These holes are around 15 to 20 cm.
  • As they swim around looking for food, they need to be able to get to the surface to breath every so often.
  • Straying too far from an air hole can mean death.
  • To increase their foraging area, they will make new holes from underneath the ice.
    • To do this, they breath in air and release it underneath the ice to form a bubble.
    • At low temperatures, the carbon dioxide dissolves and oxygen from the water diffuses into the bubble.
    • The seals may also take the bubble with them like a scuba tank.
    • Bubbles that are left in one spot can bore a hole in the ice to make a new air hole.

Seal pups are born during the winter inside ice dens that are formed in ice domes.

  • The temperature inside these dens is much warmer than the outside air, reaching up to 15 degrees warmer in celsius. 
  • These igloos are warmed by the body heat of the mothers and babies inside.