Trips and Tales (Part 81)
I hear that there are over 300 species of protozoans in Lake Baikal. That’s good because you can never have too many of those! Look, I have no idea exactly how they fit into the grand scheme, but I just wanted to convey the richness and variety of life in and around this remarkable place. Last time I covered at some length the various ways that the more hostile inhabitants could assist you in your demise. Before that there was the “Get there before it’s ruined” piece. For now I just want to slip back into awe mode again, and just enjoy it.
It’s easy to overlook what you cannot see, so a big shout-out to all of Baikal’s microscopic multi-limbed and tentacled curiosities that go about their business unseen whilst you are on-land dodging the bears. Of course, we do tend to be more aware of what is at the upper end of the food chain, but it is fair to assume that a massive visible diversity is propped up ultimately by an equally impressive range at every tier of existence beneath. And so it is with Baikal: tens of species of a particular organism here, tens of another there, 100 species of mollusks, 1000 species of aquatic flora. That’s outside of the more “immediate” 20 or so species of flowering plants (not aquatic).
Also, situations and inhabitants that you may not have considered: fresh water sponges visible through the still summer waters or flatworms clustering exclusively around the hot springs of Frolikha. That’s way north incidentally, at the less developed end of Baikal and not somewhere you’ll pass through via the Trans-Siberian railway. It’s worthy of a quick mention though for those seeking the true wilderness experience with all the pros and cons that entails.
Moving up in scale to life that you can actually see: there are Shirokolobka (wide forehead) fish that comprise 32 of the total 56 species supported by Lake Baikal.
As mentioned in previous outings: two thirds of Baikal’s wildlife is unique to the region. The Golomyanka (Oil Fish) is such a beast. Scale-less and coloured transparent mother-of-pearl, just over one third of their mass is comprised of a vitamin “A” rich oil, hence the fish’s name. They can survive depths exceeding 1400 metres too. Seriously strange.
Although we would be relatively more familiar with the Sturgeon, the most ubiquitous is the Omul, clustered in its five major population-sites across Baikal. Each summer, the five populations each retreat to their respective river tributaries to spawn. Never the twain, and all.
Of course, no fish population would be complete without its predator: enter the graceful Baikal seal or Nerpa, whose ancestors are speculated to have been prehistoric émigrés from the Arctic, even though there are significant differences between the two. Outside of the obvious colour difference (tending towards silver-grey); the Nerpa has two litres more blood, allowing for dives approaching an incredible 70 minutes! And yes, occasionally they are encountered in relatively close proximity. Not an excuse to “fool” with them, though.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 82) Buryatia: Last stop before Mongolia
[Photo by mikeemesser]