An Arctic seal in temperate waters: History of the ringed seal (Pusa hispida) in the Baltic Sea and its adaptation to the changing environment

Pirkko Ukkonen, Kim Aaris-Sørensen, Laura Arppe, Linas Daugnora, Antti Halkka, Lembi Lõugas, Markku Juhani Oinonen, Malgorzata Pilot, Jan Storå

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


The ringed seal (Pusa hispida) is an early immigrant in the Baltic Basin and has since its arrival experienced substantial changes in the climate, salinity and productivity of the Basin. In this paper, we discuss the dispersal and distribution of the ringed seal during different stages of the Baltic Sea in relation to past and ongoing environmental changes. Subfossil ringed seal remains around the Baltic Sea and the Danish Straits were radiocarbon dated in order to map the distribution of the species in different time periods. The δ13C data were used in evaluating the changes in the marine character of the Baltic Basin. The sequence of the dates indicates a continuous presence of the species in the Baltic Basin. The earliest ringed seal finds come from the Skagerrak/
Kattegat area (Denmark, Swedish west coast) and date to the full glacial period and Baltic Ice Lake. In the Baltic Basin, the species appears in the subfossil
record during the Ancylus period, but the main part of the remains date to the Littorina stage. During the Littorina stage, the distribution of the species
was at least periodically wider than today, covering also southern parts of the Baltic. The presence of breeding populations in southern parts of the Baltic
during the Holocene Thermal Maximum (HTM) indicates that the winters were at least periodically cold enough for winter ice. The changes in the marine
influence in the Baltic Basin can be seen in the seal collagen δ13C values, which serve as a proxy for qualitative changes in water mass salinity.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number12
Pages (from-to)1694-1706
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2014
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 119 Other natural sciences
  • Baltic Sea
  • dispersal
  • distribution
  • isotopes
  • postglacial climate change
  • ringed seal

Cite this