©Istock/Streluk
©Istock/Streluk

Where to go to meet “nerpa”, a Baikal indigenous seal

2 minutes to read

Lake Baikal has much autochthonous flora and fauna. There is fish that only lives here and there is also a cute animal called “nerpa” by the locals that swims in the lake’s water. It is very shy, but tourists can still see it. I am going to tell you about where to go to meet nerpa, a Baikal indigenous seal! But first, let me properly introduce you to nerpa!

Meet Baikal nerpa, the most unusual seal of all

Baikal nerpa is a freshwater seal that only lives in Baikal. This seal is the closest relative to the ones inhabiting the Far North and Far East seas. Locals consider nerpa a real symbol of Baikal. Its image is depicted on almost all souvenirs. Nerpa can be 165 cm in height. Their weight is from 50 to 130 kg. They have lots of fat under their skin; it helps them stay warm for a long time in the cold Baikal water. The fat also helps them to go without food for several days. Nerpas are famous for their deep sleep. There were times when the divers turned them around, and it did not disturb their sleep even the slightest. 

©Istock/Kroshanosha
©Istock/Kroshanosha

Nerpa has short but thick hair cover. They also have strong claws for digging holes in the thick Baikal ice to get some air. However, it can stay underwater for 40 minutes without needing more oxygen. Nerpas are fast swimmers, but they are clumsy on the shores.  You can find souvenir nerpa toys in all the shops in Irkutsk; they are usually white, the color of baby-nerpa. Mature animals are grey. Female nerpas are bigger than males.  

©unsplash/Federico Artusi
©unsplash/Federico Artusi

Places of nerpa’s habitat in Siberia

Now, you are probably wondering whether it’s feasible to encounter nerpas while traveling to Lake Baikal. Despite the fact that they tend to live far from people, fortunately, there are places where you can see them. Sometimes nerpas can swim in the Angara River in Irkutsk.

Angara River in Irkutsk
Angara River in Irkutsk

The name “angara” derives from Buryat language, it means “something open”. Several Siberian cities are situated along the shores of the river, among them Irkutsk, Angarsk, Bratsk, and some other smaller ones. If you are lucky enough, you can see nerpas there! They never swim on the surface during winter, so go for nerpa search during the summer period only!

Another place for seeing nerpas in the wild is the Ushkanyi Ostrova (the Ushkanyi Islands).

Ushkanyi Islands, Lake Baikal
Ushkanyi Islands, Lake Baikal

When the winter is near the end, nerpas tend to leave the water and bask in the sun on the shores of the Ushkanyi Islands! The Ushkanyi Islands are a part of Zabaikalsky National Park. Head straight there during the first summer months, and you will see the real nerpa sanctuary there!

Although nerpas are shy and hidden Siberian creatures, if you know where to meet them, you will for sure appreciate seeing this unique Baikal indigenous seal.


The author

Oksana Vasilieva

Oksana Vasilieva

Hi, I am Oksana from Irkutsk, Siberia. I am a linguist and passionate traveler. Being born in the deep Siberian forest, also known as taiga, I thought I would be happier if living in a warmer place. So, I traveled the world, but I always came back to my Siberia. I am excited to share its unique culture with you. Whether you fancy a ride on a dog sled or a dive in winter Baikal waters, follow my stories.

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