English summaries 10/2000
White whales of the White Sea
By Rauno Lauhakangas and Hernan Patiño
White whales, or Belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) appear in the waters round Solovetsky island, in the White Sea, in summer. They only spend two to three months there, before returning to the Barents Sea, as the White Sea completely freezes up in winter. Female whales give birth in the shallow, warm waters off the coast of Solovetsky.
In cooperation with the Russians, Finnish researchers have dived with the whales, recording their sounds and playing back to the animals not only their own “voices”, but also the sound of bronze bells and notes played on an electric guitar. The idea was to attempt to determine the whales’ “language”. White whales have been extremely interested in the sounds played to them and have even answered sound transmissions.
Pictures of whales and people together and interacting appear in some old rock paintings on the River Uikojoki. In his chronicles of 1075, Adam of Bremen describes how the Ancient Lapps would communicate with whales by yodelling to them in a low voice.
The "Skunk of the North"
By Juha Valste
Slightly smaller in stature than a domestic cat, the polecat is a mustelid inhabiting southern and central Finland. It exists here at its extreme northern limits, after having retreated from Finland for centuries during the very cold periods experienced by the region in the past, only to reappear when the climate has warmed once again.
Some time ago the polecat was fairly enthusiastically hunted, but there is little such activity nowadays. A few polecats are accidentally caught by mink trappers. One special feature of our mustelid is its ability to use a gland under its tail as a means of defence. In this respect, the polecat resembles its American cousins, the skunks (needing little introduction!), which are able to spray their obnoxious scent for several metres. “To stink like a polecat” is a highly accurate reference to the European animal’s finesse in this respect.
Molluscs withdraw into their shells
By Aura Koivisto and Risto Sauso
There are only 158 species of molluscs in Finland, which is an extremely small selection compared to hot countries. Terrestrial Fennoscandian slugs and snails withdraw into hibernation to a place where the temperature does not fall too low in the winter. They face 6-8 months of life at a low ebb. Aquatic mussels and snails close, or withdraw into, their shells.
Molluscs are protected against the cold by water that has not frozen, a thick layer of snow or of forest litter, and the ability of their cells not to freeze. The latter is due to a reduction in the cells’ water content, making cell fluids more concentrated and (rather like antifreeze) preventing them from freezing solid.
Master plan raises concern in capital
By Mikko Niskasaari
Although Finland’s population is growing extremely slowly, this is not true of job-providing Helsinki and its environs. At present, there are 550,000 people living in the Finnish capital; at the present rate of growth, in 20 years’ time there will be 600,000. Helsinki’s new draft master plan (called Yleiskaava 2002) makes provision, however, for another 160,000 inhabitants. If the plan is implemented, the city’s green areas will shrink and its shores, and even some offshore islands, will be built on.
Municipal elections being held in Finland in October, it was natural for political parties to shy away from taking any sort of firm stand on this important issue. In an opinion pole organised by Suomen Luonto magazine in September, many of the parties were opposed to construction along most of the sea shore and in so-called green areas. Those officials responsible for tabling the plans maintained that the matter is merely one of a “finger exercise” and not a firm proposal for the plan.
Master plan drafts frequently embody points of conflict. On islands owned by the defence forces, and with protected old fortifications standing on them have been earmarked on the draft plan for construction. The army is totally unaware of any such plans.
Concentrated aircraft noise frays remaining tempers
By Juho Rahkonen
Noise from Helsinki-Vantaa international airport is becoming concentrated over an increasingly smaller area. While some people have benefited from the reduced noise, others have had their nerves frayed by its steady increase. At one time there were 100,000 people living in the belt affected by aircraft noise; now there are only 25,000.
Aircraft noise has been concentrated by keeping air traffic, as far as possible, to a single route. Since the number of flights over the last decade has more than doubled, the noise pollution suffered by 25,000 people has markedly increased as well. However, the Municipality of Vantaa’s environmental engineer at the Environment Centre maintains that the increase in noise from the air is solely due to the larger number of flights and not to re-routing.
Local residents affected by air traffic are positive that the noise they have to bear has increased. Because the concentration of flight paths now means that only a small proportion of the population in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area is affected, the majority of residents tend to shrug their shoulders. In fact, the aim of the aviation authorities, who have sole control over air traffic routes, has been to reduce the actual number of people suffering from aircraft noise as much as possible. Now those left suffering feel that the noise should be dispersed rather than concentrated, meaning that a larger proportion of the population would have to put up with the noise but the noise itself would be less.
Hiitolanjoki is Finland’s newest `salmon river´
By Yrjö Rouhe
The River Hiitolanjoki flows from south-eastern Finland into Ladoga, which is now in Russian territory. Possibly more than 2000 salmon exceeding 5 kilos in weight ascend the river to spawn on their summer ‘run’. On the Finnish side, there are five sets of rapids along a 6-km stretch; four of the rapids have hydro power stations. On the Russian side, the river flows through seven major rapids over a distance of 34 km and there are no power stations in this part of the river at all.
Now a conflict has developed between the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation’s local branch, Laatokan-Karjalan Luonnonystävät (literally Nature Friends of Ladoga Karelia) and a small Finnish hydro power company called Waterpumps. The latter has visions of constructing hydro power plants on the Russian side as well, whereas the conservationists would like to have the rapids even on the Finnish side restored to a natural state.
The conservationists have received a great deal of support, as a river in its natural state is a gold mine for the fishing tourism sector. On the Russian side, too, the value of tourism is appreciated. By contrast, there is little support for the power company’s plans, the profitability of which is questionable. However, the enterprise disagrees with the calculations according to which the river would be more profitable untamed than harnessed for electricity production.
Teksti: Leigh Plester