When trying to save an animal, it helps if you have a chainsaw on hand. A Finnish fisherman named Tarmo Tolvanen happened to have exactly the right tools when he stumbled upon a seal in need of rescue.
The animal was a member of the critically endangered Saimaa ringed seal species and had become stranded on Lake Saimaa, an iced-over lake where Tolvanen was fishing.
After the seal entered the water, the frigid temperatures had caused the hole he used to enter to freeze over rapidly, leaving him trapped and unable to surface and breathe.
Tolvanan was able to carve a hole in the ice with a chainsaw, as the video shows. And although it made a lot of noise, it was able to chop a hole in the ice big enough to free the seal from his icy prison.
Tolvanen arrived at the spot Tuesday afternoon after getting a special phone call. A local resident had called him and said he had seen traces of ice, and concluded that it was the Saimaa ringed seal. Tolvanen jumped on a snowmobile and went back to investigate the situation with his wife. Once on the ice, they saw from afar where the adult ringed seals were resting.
There it was, “on the wrong side of the ice, looking where to find unfrozen water. It had traveled a couple of kilometers on the ice, and had certainly been there for a couple of days. The ringed seal was not breathing, and it had already been lying there for some time,” Tolvanen told the newspaper.
Area fisherman always carry chainsaws, and Tolvanen grabbed the saw from his snowmobile and began to cut the hole in the ice. Tolvanen saw another ringed seal come closer to monitor the situation, as the video clearly shows.
“After all, the ringed seal is afraid of people. We always get along with them. There’s no problem. The ringed seal is a very curious animal, and of course, when it realized that I was trying to help, it came immediately to the hole in the ice. Yes, it was probably thirsty, because the hole in the ice was on the edge of breaking. It took a very long time,” Tolvanen said with a laugh.
Tolvanen did not take the time to try to tell the ringed seal’s sex, because he said the most important thing was to reach the seal as quickly as possible under the ice.
It was “an adult ringed seal, and it was a pretty brave guy. It would have been certain death if it had been left in the ice. None of the places [on the ice] melt at the moment,” he added.
Tolvanen and his wife Tarja Lötjönen see ringed seals on a daily basis. However, this time of year, it’s more rare, since the seals are generally snug in their dens. The fisherman is sympathetic to the animal, whose primary diet is fish, but as a professional fisherman, he is eating at the same table.
According to biologist Tero Sipilä, the seal would have died if Tolvanen had not intervened, Sipilä told Finnish news outlet Warkauden Lehti.
The situation was blamed on the unusually small mount of snowfall this year. When adequate snow falls, seals can burrow into snow dens, but this year they’re spending most of the their time in the water.
Tolvanen’s act was extremely important, because in saving this seal, he was saving the world’s most endangered seal species. There are only 300 individual Saimaa ringed seals known to exist, and they only live in one native habitat: Lake Saimaa in Finland.
“That is the problem,” said Tolvanen. “Professional fishermen are often blamed for the deaths of ringed seals in the area, but we have not yet [hurt] any ringed seals, even though for more than twenty years we have fished these waters,” he said. “That is how coexistence should be.”