Fauna of the area
The flora and fauna of Lake Baikal are extremely rich. At present, 1550 species of animal world, and 1085 plants have been discovered. The sea weeds are mostly represented by diatom types, the fish are of bullhead types, and freshwater shrimps. Baikal contains 848 endemic types of animals, and 133 types of unique plants.
Some scientists think that Baikal flora is the most ancient type, as it consists of sea and freshwater types, which has been derived into an independent zoogeographic object.
Millions of years ago, after one of the calamities had shaken the young Baikal mountain range, the flat lake with its southern subtropical forms went into an earth break. The break was filled with more water later on. Due to being isolated in this area, the water basin maintained the ancient forms of animals and plants.
There is another theory that Baikal is the beginning of the new, the fifth ocean, as the lake shores are drifted apart 2 cm from each other annually.
The lake counts 52 species of fish, whereas 27 of them are endemic to the lake. The main types are:
During the World War II the fisheries started to use nets with little meshes, that's why it hasn't been fishing, but devastation. It was very hard for the scientists to prove that such kind of fishing would bring Lake Baikal fauna to the fatal end in after war period. Eventually, fishing was banned here for a long time. Even now, there is a limitation on fishing omul. During the spawning period fishing omul is totally banned.
The locals love salted omul most of all, some salt it open, some prefer to salt it with guts in, some even like to eat when it becomes slightly rotten. The fish is eaten smoked, fried, boiled. One of the treats to eat is the freshly caught omul, fried on the sticks on the camp- fire. In winter, they consider it a delicacy to take a frozen omul, then beat it with something hard, then take the skin off, break it into pieces, and eat this fresh stuff, putting some salt and pepper on the pieces.
There a diversity of bullheads in Baikal, 27 of them are endemic to the lake. There is also a multitude of microscopic shrimp - the far away relations of ocean lobsters, crabs, and shrimp. The difference is that Baikal residents, around 300 species, are extremely small. Still, they are not only food for fish. Baikal microscopic shrimp, epishura, is the most important water cleaner. The length of the shrimp is only 1,5 mm, but the scientists counted more than 3 million of them under only one square meter of the lake water. Such armada of hungry shrimp is able to purify the upper 50-meter layer of the water from bacteria, and remains of sea- weeds. And a small shrimp macroheptous (the length is up to 3 cm) annihilates everything that can pollute the water, dead insects, fish, and even animals drowned in the lake. Here is another secret of Lake Baikal water purity. Oh, well, there is still Man…
In the second decade of May one can witness a very interesting natural phenomenon on the lake. When the sun starts shining, thawing the ice, the surface of Baikal is covered with millions of larvae, which move to the shores. They are ephemeron larvae and chrysalides of Baikal imago. Where do they come from on the ice? Under the direct sunlight the top layers of ice become crumby and porous. The larvae crawl out of the water through the numerous cracks. The locals call the species "lipachan". The chrysalides of imago would later turn into flying insects, looking like small black butterflies. There are 37 types of imago in the area, and one can witness several waves of their appearance.
This natural phenomenon, when the larvae and chrysalides turn into adult species, is an impressive sight. The air is filled with myriads of black flakes. All the mass of imago is concentrated in the 30-meter strip along the shores of the lake. All the stones and trees are totally covered by them. The imago dies right after mating, thus the shore line of the lake is covered by 2-3 cm thick layer of dead species in the second half of June. Omul and grayling come close to the shores for feeding. Birds, squirrels, chipmunks have only this food during the period. For the bears it's also the time for pigging out, they get into the water and eat about 5-7 K of the stuff at a time.
The only representative of mammals in the lake is Baikal freshwater seal - nerpa. It has originated from the seals of the Arctic Ocean. The scientists think that nerpa migrated from the Arctic Ocean through the Yenisey and the Angara in the glacial epoch. It counts around 60,000 species presently. The living age of the seal is about 50 years. The female seal can give birth to 20 cubs.
The majority of the young ones are born in mid-March. They are born right on the ice in a snow bin. The mothers feed them with milk and they don't get into the water yet. The young animals are of a white color for the better protection. When they start eating fish they change their color into silver-grayish. When they become mature the color becomes brownish. The young animal is locally called "hubunok", when they first change their color they become "kumatkans". The hunting is allowed only for kumatkans.
The average weight of the seal is about 50 K., the maximum weight would up to 110 K., the length of the animal is 1,3-1,7 meters. The seal can move in the water with a speed of 25 km/h, it can dive to the depth of 200 meters. The seal sleeps in the water until the amount of oxygen in its blood runs low. The seal spends winter in snow bins mostly in pack ice places. The nerpa makes main breathing holes with the diameter of 40-50 cm with the help of its claws, then it makes supplementary holes, which are smaller, only 10-15 cm round. The day amount of food needed for this seal is about 5 K. of fish, it eats mostly golomyanka and bullheads.
The hunting for the seal starts in spring, in April, and continues till the ice gets thawed. Then the hunters use boats to hunt the animals. The locals consider the meat, and especially the fat of the seal, healing. The best taste of meat is that of the hubunoks, as it doesn't smell with fish.
The seal skins are used for making fur boots and hunters' skis lining. The most beautiful, strong and expensive fur is that of 3-4 month old seals. It is of silver-grayish color, and it is highly evaluated at the international fur fairs. The local people make wonderful fur hats for ladies and men. They are always available only in North Baikal area.
Some words about the wildlife of the area. The taiga forest comes right to the lake in most of the places, that's why the wildlife is diverse here. The most important hunting animal is, of course, the sable.
It's very hard to meet the bear deep in the forest, as it smells the man long before you can see it, and managed to get away unnoticed. More often you can see the huge amounts of the results of his vital functions. The bears appear on the lake shore in great quantities regularly. One can watch them since the second decade of June, depending on how fast the ice melts and the appearance of the imago. Baikal attracts bears with the multitude of different foods, as the lake gives them beetles, dragonflies, shellfish, dead fish, and sometimes wounded seals. At shallow places the bears paddle in the water, putting up the pebbles and lick the "pancakes" of the caviar, which bullheads spawn in stony areas.
But most of all the bears are attracted by the large amounts of imago. As a rule, they show up at dawn or at sunset. Such mass appearance of bears continues till July, 5. The later visits are short and rare.
Bears also find lots of food on the open, grassy areas in the mountains. That is mostly vegetarian diet, consisting of umbellate and leguminous plants. So, such a great number of bears can be seen only in this type of scenery, and in exact periods of the year. The northern shore of Lake Baikal is unique for this phenomenon.