Baikal seal seasonal movements and dive patterns

The Baikal seal (Phoca sibirica) is confined to Lake Baikal in southern Siberia. The breeding distribution of seals in winter, when the lake is frozen over, is fairly well known, whereas their movements and foraging behaviors have been relatively unstudied. With satellite-linked radio transmitters, we documented the movements and dive patterns of four juvenile Baikal seals from autumn through spring. The seals moved extensively in the lake, each covering minimal distances of 400–1,600 km between September and early May. They spent little time hauled out from September through May and, apparently, dived continuously. Dives were mostly to depths of lo-50 m, though a few exceeded 300 m. Most lasted between 2 and 6 mm, within theoretical aerobic dive limits, although a few exceeded 40 min. The exceptionally long dives occurred while the seals were in areas of extensive ice cover, suggesting that they were, perhaps, under ice-pilotage in search of breathing holes rather than foraging dives. Otherwise, the dive performances of these Baikal seals were, relative to body mass, similar to those of other well-studied phocids. Movements and dive patterns of seals appeared to be primarily associated with seasonal and diel movements of their primary prey, golomyanka and sculpins, and secondarily correlated with patterns of ice formation and thaw.

Stewart, B.S., E.A. Petrov, E.A. Baranov, A. Timonin & M. Ivanov. 1996. Seasonal movements and dive patterns of juvenile Baikal seals, Phoca sibirica. Mar. Mamm. Sci. 12: 528–542.