In 2020, more than 40,000 gray seals, or halls, were seen in aerial calculations in the Baltic Sea. Of these, less than 17,000 were in the Finnish waters. In addition, around 13,300 Baltic ringed seals were counted in the Bothnian Bay.

At the time the count is carried out in May and June, most grey seals are found on the fringes of the Baltic Sea basin – in the archipelago of Central Sweden, in the archipelago of Southwest Finland and on the western coast of Estonia. Over the last few years, the increase in the population size has been most noticeable in the archipelago of Central Sweden. In the southern reaches of the Baltic Sea, population counts of grey seals have shown slow but steady growth.

Since 2000, the grey seal population in the Baltic Sea area has increased annually by five per cent on average. In Finnish waters, the number of grey seals spotted by counters has remained at a relatively stable level. In spring 2016 majority of grey seals (9,627) counted in Finland were seen, as usual, in the archipelago of Southwest.

In spring 2016 result from ringed seal census is clearly lower (7,437) than during the last year, when ice conditions were unusual and counts resulted record-breaking 17,400 ringed seals. Results do not tell sudden changes in ringed seal numbers, but changes in census conditions. The ringed seal population in the Bay of Bothnia increased around by five per cent annually since 1988.

Although seal populations have been on the increase, factors such as climate change may pose completely new threats, particularly to the ringed seal, whose reproduction depends on ice and snow.

Grey seals counted in the different areas in 2016

Area / country
Estonia Finland Russia Denmark Sweden Poland In total
Bothnian Bay and North Quarken 356* 991 1347
Sea of Bothnia(1) 539(1) 2160 2699
Central Sweden 9217 9217
SW Finnish archipelago 9627 9627
Gulf of Finland 420 645 x 1065
Western Estonia (excl. Gulf of Riga) 1443 1443
Gulf of Riga 2645 2645
Southern Sweden 1438 1438
Denmark 589 589
Poland 46
In total 4508 11167 589 13806 46 30116

1) Sandbäck – Södra Sandbäck

* seal sanctuaries of the Quarken

x = No count from Russia 2016. Last count in 2012 was around 300 grey seals


Data produced by Luke lays the foundation for the management of seal populations

Charged with responsibility for monitoring seal populations in the Baltic Sea, the Natural Resources Institute Finland carries out scientific research on seals. Key research areas include seal ecology, the vitality of seal populations and the socio-economic impact of seals. Research results are comprehensively applied at both national and international level in the management of Baltic Sea seal populations.

In mainland Finland, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is responsible for the management of Baltic Sea seal populations; on the Åland Islands, the responsible body is the Government of Åland. Management policies related to the Finnish Baltic Sea seal populations are presented in the Management plan for the Finish Baltic Sea seal populations.

Monitoring the endangered Saimaa ringed seal is the responsibility of Metsähallitus.

Photo on top of the page: Mervi Kunnasranta, Luke

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