Animals and fishes

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Baikal is a surprising and, in its kind, a unique, natural laboratory where one can study the life in abyssal fresh waters. The process of formation of new varieties and species of organisms is continuously under way in the lake. Throughout its history both Baikal itself and the organisms, inhabiting its world, have undergone a complicated evolution, that's why, the lake is inhabited by very ancient forms of organisms once living in small lakes (pre-Baikal ones), as well as the younger ones, originated in Baikal itself. There are protozoa organisms, accounting for more than 300 species, about the same number of the most interesting amphipod crustaceans, various flat and round worms, lowest crustaceans, insects, molluscs, fish, the nerpa (seal).

svi16.jpg (106160 bytes)The aquatic flora of Baikal has more than 1,000 species! Besides the algae, about 20 species of flowering plants were found here. The lake's bays and its silty lagoons, its sheltered coves, the areas of the river deltas harbour the rhdest, the thin reed, the water buckwheat, the cat's tail, the hornwort, the sedge, etc.

Near the steep shores of Baikal the coastal areas of the deep-water slope are devoid of flowering plants, yet, there are algae living there. Look carefully at the stones along the surf line. In July, August and September one can see on them a thick green moss-like plant - the ulokrix, and, a little bit deeper, the stones are covered with yellowish fibers of algae called the didimosphenia; still deeper (3-10 metres) you'll see small bushes of the Baikal draparnaldias that use to form dark-green thickets, and other algae.

Exceptionally rich and diversified is the phytoplankton - tiny algae inhabiting, mostly, the upper, more or less lit, layer of water. These are diatom peredinial golden algae. Many species of these algae grow intensively in early spring, when still under the ice. Among these are also the cold-loving diatom algae: the melizira, the cyctotella, the cinedra; especially plentiful under patches of transparent ice is the gymnodium, a light-and cold-loving peredinial algae.

In summer, while the water is getting warmer, the cold-loving algae give way too more heat-loving ones - to green, blue-green, golden, and some other species of diatom algae. The number of algae in Baikal varies, depending on the seasons.

The biological role of the bacteria in Baikal is no less diverse. They decompose all that becomes dead, mineralise it, thus participating in purification of the water. The bacteria provide food for some plankton crustaceans and other organisms.

Among the smallest organisms inhabiting Baikal are the protozoa unicellular organisms: the infusoria, the rhizopods, the flagellums, and the sporoforms. In no other lake, except in Baikal, the infuzoria are of such a great importance in the life of the organisms inhabiting the water depths. Certain infuzoria species are found even at a depth of 600 metres! Some infuzoria live in water on their own (84 species), other ones live parasitically, the others cohabitate in molluscs' mantle cavities. But all the protozoa serve as food for more highly organised forms.

In summer, then the water surface is quiet, one can see through the water vast, of bright- and dark-green colour, thickets of the Baikal fresh-water sponges of various shapes, but none of them having the same form.

All the Baikal sponges live on stony grounds in open Baikal and, as seen from researches made by the Pisces, a deep-water apparatus, they live at depths reaching 1,000 metres. The Baikal sturgeon can use the sponge as food.

Among a great variety of the worms inhabiting Baikal, unusual and plentiful are the flat ciliary worms. Such worms, alongside with the sponges that live in the vicinity of the Frolikha Hot Springs, are built about 60 per cent of the ancient carbon. This Baikal turbilaria (the name of the ciliary worms in Latin) are different in colour and size. They are brightly coloured in patterns of various hues, and reach the size of about 30 centimetres long and 4-5 centimetres wide, when spread out. All these worms are endemic, they solely inhabit the open parts of Baikal.

Moving around the lake's bottom, the Baikal worms search for a victim, paralyse it, then envelop it by its mucus and draw it slowly inside the body. By eating up sick and weakened organisms, the natworms function as medical orderlies.

Under stones, mostly on clay grounds, less often on sandy areas, from the water level up to the maximum depths, there live scarce-setaceous worms - the oligo- chets. Triis group of worms accounts for no less than 70 species, 90 per cent of which are endemic and live in open Baikal.

Among the benthic inhabitants, the oligochets take leading positions. A small part of the oligichets are rapacious, the major part of them are detrivorous. Normally, they serve as food supply for other animals, more highly organised. The scare-setaceous worms play a rather significant part in the lake's biological processes. I. Izosimov believes that the oligichets are the relict of the tertiary fauna that had been formed long ago and become endemic, while Baikal has given life to a number of new species with their specific accommodative features enabling them to live in this great reservoir.

Apart from the scare-setaceous species, the lake habours a curious representative of the multy-setaceous worms - the policheta maasayunkia baikalica. It lives in small tubes built of silt and sand particles, fastened  together with a specific substance. This typical representative of the see or freshened reservoirs live on coastal silty grounds, in sponges foramens, as well as on plant branches, and in other places. It is still not clear how it had got into Baikal, but there are several interesting suppositions on that score.

More than hundred species of the molluscs are known to live in Baikal. They live on silty or sandy grounds, mostly at a depth of 15-20 metres; the molluscs are not frequently found when it is 20-30 metres deeper, and only sparse single molluscs specimens live at a depth of 100-150 metres. Their size is not big, the shells are thin, due to the cold water and lack of calcium salts. The mollusc presents good food for the sturgeon, the sig, the grayling, the bullhead, and the eel-pout.

 Mostly, all Baikal molluscs belong to the basic families of Baikal; they are found in their fossil forms in the lake's deposits that score million years old. Of specific interest is the endemic family of the baikaliids of various shapes and of shell sizes, decorated capriciously with ribs, keel, knobs and finest spiral nets.

The earliest summer, the end of May-June, is the period when insects - the rucheiniks (born in streams) start flying out at their full. In the air near the shores, on the cliffs, stones and trees, by the water brim, there is a thick layer of the metlyak - the name for the rucheiniks in the south of Baikal, or lipochan - in the north. Their adult phase lasts a few days. After laying their eggs into the water, the insects die, their larvae turn into crystallises, and in spring they develop wings.

That's why, every spring, both singly and or in family groups, bears hurry up to the shore - to feast on the insects; at that time graylings and omuls 'haul' alongside the shores - this kind of food is extremely nourishing! Among other insects, the chironomides are numerous, they account for about 60 species, but only one third of them live in open Baikal.

The most numerous inhabitant of the lake's water thickness is a copepodae crustocean - the Baikal epis- chura. It is about a manna-croup grain, the size of 1.5 millimetres is 'gigantic' for it, but it is this crustacean of the Crustacea species that account for 96 per cent of the Baikal zooplankton. The epischura plays an exceptional part in Baikal's life circle. This crustacean is a main con- sumer of the plankton algae: also, it subjects the bacteria to thorough filtration. Without any exaggeration, one can say that the epischura is the major filter of Baikal. According to academician G. Galazy, a well-known sci- entist (Lake Baikal, 1979), «throughout the year all crus- taceans of this species filter from 500 to 1,000 cubic kilo- metres of the Baikal water or more, which is 10-15 times more the annual in-flow of water from all tributaries». But the epischura lives only in cold clean water with constant chemical composition and high saturation with oxygen.

Most extraordinary is development of the crustracea in Baikal, especially the amphipods that account for about 300 species in the lake (a third of all the gammarids known in the world!). Mostly, they are inhabitants of the bottom; they can bury themselves in the ground, hide under the stones, crawl on the bottom, and place themselves cosily on the Baikal sponges, feeding at their expense. At small depths, their bright colours, good eye-sight, make the amphipods distinguished; at great depths they are colourless, blind, with long antennae by means of which they search food on the ground.

A major part of the amphipods are predators - cadaver-eaters. They eat up the invertebrate, dead fish, and other organisms. Sometimes, fisherman, if they fail to check their nets in time, lift up either «minced» fish or skeletons devoid of any flesh. The amphipods are remarkable medical orderlies and serve as food for fish.

Among the amphipods, a special place is taken by a pelagic "(living in the depth of water) crustacean - the macrogektopus, or the yur, as fishermen call it. The yur is one of the main food components for the omul, and also the food for all fish species. The macrogektopus is a typical inhabitant of open Baikal, but its major mass keeps close to the upper, 200-250-metres thick, most active layer of water during daylight hours, and at night it moves over to the surface layers hunting small plankton organisms.

svi15.jpg (155035 bytes)There are 56 species of fish inhabiting Baikal. Their major part consists of the bullhead - the shirokolobka ('wide forehead', as called locally). Born in Baikal from an ancient form akin to the Anadyr and Michigan bullheads, they are represented in Baikal by 32 species, 29 of which are endemic. Largely, the bullheads are typical inhabitants of the bottom, occupying all water depths. Also, Baikal homes the world's most abyssal fish living in fresh water. These fish have preserved eyesight even at the greatest depths, though it is black-and-white there, in fact.

Two species of the bullheads - the yellow-fin and the black -crest - inhabit the water depths. These pelagic forms live in the upper 100 metre-thick layer, feeding on the epischura and the yur. The pelagic bullheads' fries, especially those of the yellow-fin bullheads, the so called poyed (glad meal), is one of the food components for the omul.

Possibly, the Baikal's most interesting fish is the golomyanka (oil fish), which is still mysterious in many aspects. The golomyankas - the big and the small species - live only in Baikal, their size is no more than 24 centimetres, they are free of scale, of nacreous colour and transparent, containing up to 35 per cent of medicinal oil rich in vitamin A. The golomyanka is the most numerous fish in Baikal, its resources amount for about 150 thousand tons, but on neither of its life stages does it swim in great gatherings or schools, and, that's why, it's not entered in the food-fish list. Old residents said that long time ago, after the storms, golomyankas were picked alongside the shores, the fat was melted and used in treatments for rheumatism, atherosclerosis and for healing wounds that would not skin over for long. The golomyanka is a viviparous fish, the only one in our latitudes. It gives birth to 3,000 liv- ing fries at a time, but a greater part of females perish after the child-hearing. Rarely, the golomyanka gives posterity twice, more rarely - three times, but in the nature there are no golomyankas that live more than 6 years.

This small fish endures pretty well any pressure in the depths of the Baikal water. At night it rises to the water surface, and at daytime it swims down to great depths. Limnologists had a chance to observe the golomynka's behaviour in the water depths. At a depth of 1,000-1,400 metres and more the golomyanka moves freely both hor- izontally and vertically, whereas at such a depth even a cannon cannot shoot because of the enormous pressure.

It is noted that the golomyanka is very sensitive to the temperature of water. The temperature of up to +5°C is optimal for it, it avoids higher temperatures, and +10°C is mortal for it.

The major food-fish in Baikal is the omul. When it comes to tenderness and gustatory qualities of meat, the omul knows no rivals. There are five populations of the omul: the selenginsky, the chivyrkuysky, the posolsky, the north-baikalsky, and the barguzinsky ones.

In autumn, during the sprawling season, each population moves into its own river. The instinct of continuation of generation forces the omul to overcome turbulent rapids and river shoals. The caviar is left on the sandy and pebbly bottoms with moderate flows, and the development of its larvae lasts 8 months. For different reasons, a greater part of the caviar perishes: it is either buried under sand and silt or eaten up by predators. Hence, the construction of fish-breeding plants on Baikal where valuable food-fish are grown under artificial conditions.

At plants, 80 per cent of larvae survive from caviar, but, when thrown down into Baikal, they become exposed to many dangers, so that only one fry of a hun- dred can return to the pawning site. By standards of ichthyology, it is a normal per cent! Admiral Nelson once remarked that «that three cods would be enough to feed London unless their generation could be preserved...»

All the omuls are known to belong to three ecologomorphological groups: benthos-abyssal, pelagic and coastal...,, The omul's resources are determined by fishery intensity. It should be noted that large-scale fishery decreases gradually, while there is an increase of licensed amateurish fishery. It is note-worthy that now, in the set- tlements on Baikal's shores, the local people can offer you salted and smoked omul, still hot, cooked in your eyes.

Besides the omul and better than the omul is the Baikal lake sig, a sappy fat fish weighing up to 12 pounds and more. Splendid sporting items of fishery are the black and the white Baikal graylings. In spring, after the ice breaks up, the black Baikal grayling, a surprisingly graceful fish with a high spinal fin, sparkling with all rainbow colours, move up into the rivers falling into Baikal. It overcomes the rapids and zaioms (wood-piles stuck in a river) up to one metre high, and 17 days later the caviar gives life to the larvae that roll backwards into Baikal. The black grayling lives both in the lake's quiet waters and swift mountain rivers.

There are taimens and lenoks living in Baikal, but a special place in the lake's ichthio-fauna is taken by the Baikal sturgeon which largely inhabit the areas of the Baikal's major tributaries: the delta zone of the Selenga River, Proval Gap, Chivyrkuy and Barguzin Buys. The sturgeons migrate widely throughout the whole lake alongside the coastal line of Baikal, swimming into bays and coves. In former times, the sturgeons caught used to weigh about 250 pounds, yet, they grow slowly and mature lete. The males come in prawning schools at the age of 15-28 years, the females - at the age of 21-37 years.

In Baikal there are perches, daces, ides, crucians, roaches, eel-pouts, and other fish spread widely in Siberia - the inhabitants of the lake's tributaries, its shal- low bays and silty inlets.

In the 40-s, the Amur carp was acclimatised, the eastern bream is making itself at home here, the Amur sheat-fish penetrated into the lake through the Khilok- Selenga river system.

Of great interest up till now is the Baikal seal, or the nerpa, as it is more often called. Whence this beast is in Baikal, if its relatives live in the northern arctic regions and southern Caspian Sea? There is an opinion that the seal had come into Baikal from the Arctic Ocean through the Lena River (the Lena and Baikal had constituted an integral system in pre-his- toric times), added to the fact, that the chromasomic analyses and other data are in favour of the arctic-sea seal. Anyhow, there are many differences, and, first, in its interior - the Baikal seals are more graceful, especial- ly, the females. They also differ from others by the silver- grey colour of their skin, and, at last, they have 2 litres of blood more, which enables the nerpa to do without fresh air for almost 70 minutes.

According to observations of workers of the Limnological Institute, the nerpa is able to dive at a depth of almost 300 metres; while diving, its metabolic processes cease, and it shifts over, due to myoglobin, to intro-visceral breathing, while the blood vein walls are getting rid ofcholesterine. Its population, according to information gained by researchers E. Petrov and M. Ivanov, is no less than 100,000 animals. Yet, two centuries ago Peter Simon Pallas wrote sorrowfully that «through spears and swords Baikal has been damaged irreparably, and the nerpas are not to be seen already in the South Baikal...»

In winter time, when the lake is covered by the thick layer of ice, the seal makes breath-throughs (holes in the ice) by its sharp claws. Nearby, in a snowy den, the cow gives birth to one or, rarely, to two seal-calves. At first, they are of yellow-green colour. Two weeks later they turn white, and later they acquire a noble silver-grey tint of colour.

nerpa.jpg (46058 bytes)The nerpa feeds on the fish that are not significant in fishery, but important for the Baikal's ecosystem (bull- heads making 20 per cent, golomyanka - 80 per cent of its food ration). Daily it consumes no less than 3 kilo- grams offish (a ton annually!). No words can render the expression which is left after meeting a living nerpa somewhere in a quiet bay of the lake or near Ushkany Islands. A trustful open look of the big clever eyes will charm everyone. For hours long they can bask in the sun playing with their kins.

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