Ladoga Lake IMMA

Size in Square Kilometres

17,527 km2

Qualifying Species and Criteria

Ladoga ringed seal – Pusa hispida ladogensis

Criterion A, B (1,2), D (1)


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The Lake Ladoga IMMA in Russia encompasses the primary habitat for the Ladoga ringed seal, a freshwater seal subspecies (Pusa hispida ladogensis), which is a relic from the glacial era. The subspecies seems to still have some very limited genetic exchange with the Baltic subspecies although the frequency of inter-breeding is unknown. The Ladoga ringed seal population is largely confined to Lake Ladoga and the population is currently considered stable with around 6,000 animals which is 13-49% fewer than in mid-20th century. The subspecies is affected by climate change, by-catch in fishing gear, recreational use of the region and industrial development.

Description of Qualifying Criteria

Criterion A – Species or Population Vulnerability

The Ladoga ringed seal (Pusa hispida ladogensis) is listed as vulnerable (Criterion A2b) in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List (Sipilä, 2016b). It is endemic to Lake Ladoga, Russia. The population is currently roughly 6,000 seals, having reached some much lower estimates in past decades (Sipilä, 2016). It is unclear why former and current population estimates diverge as much, but more current estimates are consistent independent of the used methodology (Trukhanova et al., 2013; Bizikov et al., 2022). The population faces multiple threats including climate change which is reducing the availability of ice-breeding habitat especially during warmer winters (Trukhanova, 2013; Bizikov et al., 2022), development of coastal areas mainly for recreation (Savelieva and Tolstoguzova, 2008; Nikiforov et al., 2019), and bycatch in fisheries (Trukhanova et al., 2012; 2021).

Criterion B: Distribution and Abundance

Sub-criterion B1: Small and Resident Populations

The Ladoga ringed seal is small in number.  Presently, the Ladoga seal population is estimated at approximately 6,000 individuals. Calculations underscore that over the course of the past three generations, the population has undergone a reduction ranging from 13% to 49% (Sipilä 2016b).

The subspecies is resident year-round in the freshwater lake of Ladoga, Russia. The subspecies is pagophilic (ice-breeding) and gives birth in late February and early March. Ladoga ringed seals construct breeding lairs in snow difts, primarily within the zone of ice hummocks and ridges of fast ice. Additionally, in the northern region of Lake Ladoga, these seals utilize snowdrifts that accumulate near the coasts of islands or islets (Kunnasranta et al. 2001).

The Ladoga seal primarily utilizes two crucial breeding areas: the open expanse of Lake Ladoga and the skerry region situated in its northern part (Kunnasranta et al. 2001, Agafonova et al. 2007). It is estimated that approximately 80% of the population reproduces in the central part of the lake, while the remaining 20% reproduces in the skerry region (Medvedev and Sipilä 2010).

The distribution of the seals during the winter and spring is intricately linked to ice conditions. In milder springs, their distribution is more concentrated as they congregate in shallow areas where fast ice forms. These areas include Shlisselburg Bay and Volkhov Bay in the southern sector of the lake, Svir Bay, and the Olonetsky Nature Reserve in the southeast, as well as the straits within the skerry region in the northern part of the lake. The significance of skerries in their habitat seems to be growing due to climate change and the reduction of seasonal ice cover. For instance, an abnormally warm spring in 2020 led to the discovery of approximately 400 individuals in the post-breeding period within the Nizhne-Svirsky State Nature Reserve (Svir Bay) (M. A. Antipin, pers. comm.). In 2020 terrestrial pupping conditions were observed for the first time when a pup was being nursed on an island coast within the skerry region of Lake Ladoga (Loseva et al. 2022).

In colder winters and springs with better ice conditions, the seal distribution becomes more extensive, encompassing the central part of the lake as well (Agafonova et al. 2007, Trukhanova et al. 2013). The presence of commercial and amateur fishermen, however, has disrupted seal behavior, leading them to use ice located farther from the coast (Trukhanova et al. 2013). Notably, the reduction of ice due to climate change poses a significant threat to the population, and the distribution of fishermen on the ice further influences the seals’ distribution.

Ladoga seals feed mainly on smaller schooling fish and are feeding generalists. They feed locally around the haul outs, but can travel longer distances. The Ladoga ringed seals mainly feed in Lake Ladoga occasionally entering river mouths following fish concentrations. Since almost no telemetry studies have been carried out there is not much information about feeding areas. The only adult seal (male) tagged in the southern part of the Ladoga Lake in early November remained in coastal areas of Volkhov Bay and river estuaries during the open-water period (with depths up to 40 m). After the beginning of fast ice formation in mid-January, the seal moved to Svir Bay and stayed in deeper waters (with depths up to 60 m) (Glazov et al. 2019).

Sub-criterion B2: Aggregations

The Lake Ladoga region covers an area of approximately 18,000 km². The Ladoga seal is distributed throughout the entirety of Lake Ladoga. During the open-water season, their common behavior involves hauling out on the coasts of islands and near-shore rocks, known as “ludas,” where they gather in substantial aggregations.  These key sites include various islands in the eastern part of the Valaam Archipelago (Sipilä, 2002; Agafonova et al., 2007; 2010), the Zapadnyi Archipelago, Konevets Island, and several islands in the skerry region located in the northern part of the lake (Agafonova, Sokolovskaya, 2018). These specific areas, which host the majority of the population during the open-water season, hold critical importance for the seal population, especially in light of the increasing prevalence of recreational and other human activities along the coasts.

Throughout the open-water season, the seals utilize permanent haul-out sites situated on rocky shores, treeless islets, or rocks within the water (Agafonova et al., 2007a). The Valaam Archipelago (comprising Sosnovye and Krestovye islands, and Palinsary Island) and the Zapadnyi Archipelago (encompassing Vossinansaari, Myukkerike, and Yalansaari islands) have been identified as the most abundant sites. In the skerry region, these haul-out sites are primarily used by seals toward the end of the molting period when fast ice has receded (typically in April and May) (Ulichev, Dudakova, 2016). During the summer months, seals may also occupy some islands in the skerry region (Loseva et al. 2021). The southern part of Lake Ladoga remains relatively underexplored in terms of haul-out sites, with limited scientific data available since the mid-20th century (Sokolov, 1958). Nonetheless, there are reports and videos documenting modern haul-out sites on Sukho Island.

In the autumn months, they forage in the open water areas, exhibiting a preference for regions with high fish biomass. As soon as the ice begins to form, the seals typically follow the ice edge, carefully selecting wintering habitats. To accommodate their breathing and resting needs, they create and maintain a network of water access holes in the ice, and they establish snow lairs either on the fast ice or in nearshore zones. These lairs serve various purposes, including pupping and resting. In the spring, the entire population converges on the remaining ice fields as part of their annual molting process, which they subsequently complete on the coast once the ice has completely disappeared.

Criterion D: Special Attributes

Sub-criterion D1: Distinctiveness

The Ladoga ringed seal consists of a small, genetically distinct population (Berta and Churchill, 2012), and they are primarily isolated both geographically and genetically from their related subspecies: the Arctic ringed seal (Pusa hispida hispida), the Baltic ringed seal (Pusa hispida botnica), and the Saimaa seal (Pusa hispida saimensis). Furthermore, morphometric studies have highlighted the distinctiveness of Ladoga seals from the Baltic and Saimaa seal populations (Hyvarinen and Nieminen 1990, Amano et al. 2002). Their unique adaptation to a freshwater environment sets them apart from other pinnipeds, which are predominantly marine species. As highly adapted apex predators in a land-locked ecosystem, which is atypical for marine mammals, Ladoga seals offer a rare example of pinniped adaptability and resilience under extreme conditions. Ladoga Lake, in turn, serves as an isolated model water body, providing scientists with a unique opportunity to study seal adaptations in the face of changing climate conditions and anthropogenic impacts, albeit on a smaller scale compared to the entire polar regions.

Supporting Information

“A New Protection Strategy for the Saimaa Ringed Seal, Due to Climate Change” (PDF). Metsähallitus – Natural Heritage Services, Eastern Finland. 2011. Retrieved 2016-05-01.

Agafonova, E., Verevkin, M., Sagitov, R., Sipilä, T., Sokolovskaya, M., Shaknazarova, V. 2007a. Ringed seal in the Lake Ladoga and on Valaam Archipelago islands (In Russian). Vammalan Kirjapaino Oy

Agafonova E. V., Verevkin M. V., Medvedev N. V., Sipilya T., Sokolovskaya M. V. and Shakhnazarova V. Y. 2007b. Distribution of haul-out sites of Ladoga ringed seals (Phoca hispida ladogensis Nordq.) and their abundance on the islands of the Valaam Archipelago (Lake Ladoga) in summer. Dynamics of game animal populations in Northern Europe. Petrozavodsk: KarRC RAS: 5–9

Agafonova, E.V., Sokolovskaya, M.V. 2018. Location of summer haul-outs of Ladoga ringed seals (Pusa hispida ladogensis) and amount of resting animals in the skerry area and on the islands of Valaam In: Danilov PI ed Dynamics of game animals populations in Northern Europe: Proceedings of the 7th International symposium held 24–28 September 2018 Petrozavodsk: KarRC RAS 6 – 7

Agafonova, E.М., Verevkin, M.V., Sipilä, T., Sokolovskaya, M.V., Shaknazarova, V.U. 2010. Monitoring of the Ladoga ringed seal (Pusa hispida ladogensis Nordq 1899) population on haul-outs at the islands of the Valaamo Archipelago (In Russian). In: RA Sagitov, EP Ieshko, MV Sokolovskaya (eds) State of population, problems and ways of conservation of Ladoga seals (Phoca hispida ladogensis): proceedings of international meeting. SPb, pp 7-16

Amano, M., Hayano, A., Miyazaki, N. 2002. Geographic variation in the skull of the ringed seal, Pusa hispida. Journal of Mammalogy 83: 370–380

Berta, A. and Churchill, M. 2012. Pinniped taxonomy: review of currently recognized species and subspecies, and evidence used for their description. Mammal Review, 42: 207-234.

Bizikov, V.A., Sabirov, M.A., Sidorov, L.K., Lukina, J.N. Bizikov et al. 2022. Abundance and distribution of the Ladoga ringed seals in anomaly warm winter 2020: results of the arial survey using drones // TRUDY VNIRO. 2022. V. 190. P. 79-94 htpps://

Filatov, I. E. 1990. The Ladoga ringed seal. In: Sokolov, V.E., ed. Rare and endangered mammalian species of the USSR. Moscow: Nauka. 57 – 65.

Glazov, D. M., Kuznetsova, D. M., Solovyevaa, M. A., Ulichev, V. I. and Rozhnov, V. V. 2019. Use of the Lake Ladoga area by the Ladoga seal (Pusa hispida ladogensis) in the autumn-winter period, based on satellite telemetry data. Journal of Zoology: 706-713

Hyvarinen, H., Nieminen, M. 1990. Differentiation of the ringed seal in the Baltic Sea, Lake Ladoga and Lake Saimaa. Finnish Game Research 47: 21–27.

Kunnasranta, M., Hyvärinen, H., Sipilä, T. and Medvedev, N. 2001. Breeding habitat and lair structure of the ringed seal (Phoca hispida ladogensis) in northern Lake Ladoga in Russia. Polar Biology 24:171 – 174.

Loseva, A.V., Shakhnazarova, V.Y., Chirkova, O.A. 2021. Distribution of the Ladoga ringed seal (Pusa hispida ladogensis Nordq) in Palosarenselkya strait, Sortava district of the Republic of Karelia. Proceedings of the Karelian Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences 5:85 – 92.

Loseva, A., Chirkova O., Akhatov, E. 2022. Ladoga Ringed Seal (Pusa hispida ladogensis) Can Breed on Land: A Case Study of the Nursing Period // Arctic.  Vol. 75 No. 4 (2022): DECEMBER 398–518

Medvedev, N.V., Sipilä, T., Kunnasranta, M., Hyvärinen, H., 2000. The Ladoga ringed seal. Inventory and study of biological diversity on the territory of the Zaonezhsky Peninsula and the Northern Ladoga Region. Operational information materials:325-332

Medvedev, N.V. and Sipilä, T. 2010. Wintering and breeding peculiarities of ringed seal (Pusa hispida ladogensis) in the northern part of Lake Ladoga. Transactions of the Karelian Research Centre of RAS 1:86 – 94.

Nikiforov, O.N., Gorokhova, S.M., Dmitrieva, L.V., et al. (eds) 2019. Leningrad region in 2018 (In Russian). Petrostat, SPb

Savelieva Yu.V., Tolstoguzova O.V. (eds) 2008. Management of tourism development in the region: Experience in the implementation of the Strategy of the Republic of Karelia (In Russian). Institute of Economics Karelian Research Center of RAS Petrozavodsk, Publishing house of Karelian scientific center of RAS

Sipila, T. 2016. Pusa hispida ssp. ladogensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T41674A66991648.

Sokolov, A.S. Materials on the biology of Ladoga seal. Scientific notes of the Herzen State Pedagogical Institute. 179:97-112

Sundell, T., Kammonen,, J.I., Mustanoja, E., Biard, V., Kunnasantra, M., Niemi, M., Nykänen, M., Nyman, T., Palo, J.U. Valtonen, M., Paulin, L., Jernvall, J. and Auvinen, P. 2023) Genomic evidence uncovers inbreeding and supports translocations in rescuing the genetic diversity of a landlocked seal population. Conservation Genetics 24: 155-165.

Trukhanova, I.S. 2013. The Ladoga ringed seal (Pusa hispida ladogensis) under changing climate conditions // Russian Journal of Theriology. 12(1). Pg. 41-48

Trukhanova, I.S., Andrievskaya E.M., Alexeev V.A.  2021. By-catch in Lake Ladoga fisheries remains a threat to Ladoga ringed seal (Pusa hispida ladogensis) population // V47(5): 470-481. DOI:10.1578/AM.47.5.2021.470

Trukhanova, I.S., Gurarie, E., Sagitov, R.A. 2013.Spring density and distribution of Ladoga ringed seals (Pusa hispida ladogensis) // Arctic.  V. 66, N 4 (Dec 2013) Pg. 417-428

Trukhanova, I.S., Sagitov, R.A., Verevkin, M.V., Alekseev, V.A., Andrievskaya, E.M. 2012. Ladoga ringed seal and fisheries: background for social ecological and economical strain development // Terrahumana. 2(23): 232-238

Ulichev, V. I. and Dudakova, D. S. 2016. Monitoring of the Ladoga ringed seal (Phoca hispida ladogensis) abundance in the skerry region of Lake Ladoga. Proceeding of the All-Russian conference on large inland water bodies. 5th Ladoga Symposium. St. Petersburg: 431–436.


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