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AFC Flag Expedition #7:
The Freshwater Seals of Lake Baikal, Russia
Expedition Artist: Terry Woodall
Purpose: Terry has returned from observing and recording the rare Baikal Seal in its habitat in Russia. He became the first sculptor to receive support under the AFC Flag Program.
Location: Lake Baikal, Irkutsk (south-eastern Russia)
Scheduled For: Mid-June to mid-July, 2008
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Working in cooperation with research centers near Lake Baikal in north-eastern Russia, and with the Baikal Watch and the Baikal Wave conservation organizations, Terry Woodall will be in the field from mid-June to mid-July, 2008, observing and recording the Baikal Seal (also called “Nerpa”) in its habitat.  He will research current information on its status in the natural world at research centers near Lake Baikal  and Baikal and meet with as many people of the Baikal region as possible to encourage the conservation of their special ecosystems and stress the importance of the Nerpa as a world wildlife treasure.

The Baikal Seal is the only indigenous freshwater seal in the world, although a small number of a sub-species of ringed seals has been found inhabiting Lake Lagoda and Saima Lake [the two connect] in Finland.  This population has existed in these lakes for many generations although these lakes in Finland are connected to the sea by a man-made canal. The Russian seals on the other hand are isolated thousands of miles from the nearest sea in Lake Baikal which is the largest and deepest lake in the world. It is located in the Zabaikalsky National Park, which encompasses the Holy Nose Peninsula and the Ushkanin Islands, the primary haul- out area of the seals. This national park adjoins the Barguzinsky Zapovednik conservation area, one of the first in Russia, established in 1916 to protect the sable.  Wildlife found in this huge area include brown bear, mountain goat, snow sheep, reindeer, elk, moose, Siberian Roe, wild boar, musk deer, white tailed deer, lynx, wolf, wolverine, and dozens of other fur bearing animals including the sable and ermine. 

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 The ecology of the lake is tied to the well-being of the seals, and many efforts and ongoing studies have been made on their behalf.  The seals are dependent on adequate ice floes during a short molting period that is critical to their reproduction, which could be affected by global warming and is of particular interest concerning their future. They have been hunted since prehistoric days, and their numbers are monitored and controlled today, as hunting continues. Counts and estimates vary, but about 60,000 animals seems to be the consensus.  Hunting quotas are set according to these figures and the health of the seal populations. The main threats to the seals are poaching and pollution.   Through his artwork, Woodall hopes to encourage more interest in this unique ecology. The Baikal Seal's molting and birthing relies rely on a small window of opportunity dependentant on the seasonal ice cycles.  Their successful reproduction can be threatened by disrupted ice cycles. 

Working with a recognized research/conservation organization is very important to the success of the expedition. There are research organizations working in the area, including Baikal Wave, which has focused on protection of the Nerpa.  Baikal Wave has extensive research available, and will assist with local logistics and information on the Nerpa.  Also, the Tahoe-Baikal Institute, a conservation partnership between Lake Tahoe, California, and  Lake Baikal, Russia has provided logistical support for the expedition.
 
With few tools, Terry will carve freeform pieces in the field as part of the artwork resulting from the expedition. An objective of the expedition is to present and donate a large Nerpa carving to an appropriate entity active in the conservation of the Nerpa.  

Woodall will make presentations celebrating the seals, beginning with the Baikal Watch and Baikal Wave conservation organizations in Irkutsk, the major city close to Lake Baikal.  From there, the AFC flag will be presented at the Limnological Institute in Listvyanka, a town on lake Baikal, 40 miles from Irkutsk.  The institute is a research center for the science and biology of the lake, and includes a nerpaquarium.  The next Flag presentation will be at the Bolshoye Goloustnoye Center for Ecology, 2 hours north of Listvyanka. 

To draw attention to their future plights and to encourage awareness of this pinniped world, Woodall will be creating and exhibiting wood sculptures of these creatures under the theme "Pinnipeds - The Ice is Moving". Woodall has spent many years sculpting a variety of pinnipeds after observing them from Oregon coastal headlands near his studio, and he considers them his favorite subjects.  . 
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