Ice layer, which is almost 3 feet thick, always covers Lake Baikal during winters and till beginning of March that remains same.
According to Russians this “Sacred Lake” is 25 millions years old and this is the oldest lake on the planet. It is also the deepest lake, holding more water than all of North America’s Great Lakes combined. The aquatic life of the lake comprises more than 1,500 animal species and 1,000 plant species, two third of which are found in this lake only. A marine scientist Andy Rechnitzer says that Baikal is biologically more diverse than other lakes in the world that’s because of its oxygen rich water, which circulates from its surface to its deepest depths, a process likely related to geothermal vents.
Animal Habitat in
The most interesting animal in the lake is Baikal seal or nurpa, the world’s only fresh water seal. Nurpas use their sharp claws to carve dens for their families while ice is still forming. It’s easy to find their dens, only look for air bubbles trapped in the ice after being exhaled by nurpas. The small breathing holes can be seen also that drifted by seals.
Diving in Lake Baikal is totally different than diving in other warms waters. Here for diving a crewmember must use a small metal saw to cut a small hole in the ice. After that a circular manhole size opening is cut with a chain saw, and long poles are used to push the round slab under the ice, though the water is warmer than the air (36 degree F) but still its so much cold for scuba diving. That’s why every 30 seconds or so divers must tug on safety lines attached to their wrists to let the crew above knows that they are all right.
The seal’s den is very complicated ice carving that is having tunnels and an igloo like canopy that function as an air pocket. Naturally nurpas are shy, and pups resting on a bunk bed of ice quickly dive into the water when startled by a visitor.
The weather and water conditions in June are much different. Though the water temperature is same as it is in spring but the air temperature is usually in the 60s. Anyhow visibility underwater is 200 feet that’s many time greater than most lakes. The “ Great vis” at that time of the year is caused by the water’s relative lack of minerals and by countless small crustaceans eating the algae, plankton, and bacteria that can cloud fresh water and salt water alike. However clarity don’t last long.
Despite from that only after few minutes of entering water they face such furious cold that pains their ears, face and fingers but divers still exploring the shallows of Baikal. They can see clouds and sky from 50 feet depth, looking down the sea fields of fluffy green algae.
Underwater Habitat in
The greens spires of three-foot tall candelabra sponges poke through the algae. Such large sponges which get their color from algae living symbiotically n their tissues are not rare in saltwater but in other freshwater lakes they have no parallel. Basically sponges are homes for amphipods, alien looking shrimp like creatures that are as small as specks or as large as human thumbs. There are 240 species of them in the waters of Lake Baikal.
Sculpins always hide in the algae and sponges, bottom dwelling fish that are masters of camouflage that can change their body colors and appearance according to their surroundings. Like most cold-water species these ancient fish don’t move fast because it’s too cold in the lake to make quick moves. The lake’s 40 species of Sculpins comprising 80 percent of Baikal’s fish biomass rely on camouflage for protection against larger fish.
Northern Part of the
Near the northern part of the lake at a depth of approximately 1,350 feet a geothermal vent provides warmth for the community of sponges, snails, worms, and fish living in the pitch-dark environment. The existence of this vent confirms that Baikal is a place where continental masses are being pulled apart. The photographer Emory Kristof who visited this site for the National Geographic Society says that the communities of life in lake Baikal normally resembles organisms found in an ocean so this similarity of organisms gives weight to the theory that Baikal is an ocean in the making.
Omul a rarely seen creature and delicious fish that is found only in this lake but this fish is having a small population in the lake. Its scarcity indicates Baikal is ecologically out of balance, that’s because of the destructive effects of industrial development and logging nearby.
Vadim Fialkov of the Lake Baikal Limnological Institute describes that local environmental groups had put pressure on the government to reduce the amount of effluents that are dumped into the lake. And with passage of time and if got some luck we will get Baikal back to its original condition. To help the effort, UNESCO had recommended that the lake and its watershed be designated a World Heritage Site.