The setting was Russia’s frozen Lake Baikal, and photographer Dmitry Kokh was diving deep under the endless cover of ice. Below him, the lake stretched a full kilometer down. His mission was epic, and lonely—until he spotted the little face of a seal pup emerging from its icy burrow. At once, he had the precious company he’d ventured so far for.
Kokh, an award-winning wildlife photographer, traveled to the world’s deepest lake in April to realize his long-held dream of meeting and photographing Baikal seals. Known locally as nerpa (Pusa sibirica), they are notoriously elusive and only a few have succeeded in getting close to them.
“The whole experience was amazing and very memorable,” Kokh, 42, told The Epoch Times. “It was a dream and mission realized, so that always feels very gratifying.”
Kokh, who comes from Moscow, hired a local dog named Pulka to help his team locate an ice burrow. The Siberian lake is vast and the search takes hours, often necessitating several dives until the explorers finally get lucky.
“The seal’s burrow has an exit to the lake from under the ice, so our strategy was to locate it, to dive, and then—wait for the nerpa,” Kokh wrote on his Notion page.
The first spot they chose was next to a giant crack in the ice, causing ice blocks to form caverns and passages below the surface.
“When you’re inside these passages, you can’t stop thinking about the kilometer of depth below and an endless ceiling of thick ice above you. The only way back is a small hole in the ice 100 meters away—a precious window to our world,” he wrote.
After a few dives, Kokh had his now-famous encounter with one of the pups that was born only weeks earlier.
The female seals give birth in March in snow-covered burrows on the surface. The newborn pups are covered in white fur and can’t yet swim, but before long their color changes to gray and they are ready to explore the water wonderland that awaits.
Kokh’s curious pup stayed with him for several minutes, swimming around him.
“Baikal seals are very shy, but not the young ones,” he wrote. “For sure, the seal pup was quite surprised to see an unknown clumsy creature heavily loaded with gear. Maybe that explains why it stayed with me for 15 minutes or so—keeping distance but making circles to get a better look.”
Kokh, who regularly shares his photography work on Instagram and loves exploring remote corners of Russia, has also dived in Antarctica, Norway, the Red Sea, Cuba, Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. This summer, he plans an expedition to the Arctic.
Seeing and photographing pristine natural environments is something he feels honored to experience.
“Baikal has a great energy, and being in this kind of tundra with nothing but flat white snow for miles all around is a real exercise in isolation, and will test one’s capacity to be in solitude,” he told The Epoch Times. “But of course, the encounter with this adorable Baikal seal pup was the absolute highlight.”