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May, 19, 2017

Baikal “Shark”: Amazing Facts about Baikal Oilfish (Golomyanka)

One of the most numerous fish species of Lake Baikal is the unique Baikal Oilfish. This rose-pearl fish with beautiful large fins is, without exaggeration, one of the wonders of the lake, because is amazing everything in it.

Baikal oilfish is an endemic that has inhabited the ancient Lake Baikal for several million years. Scientists distinguish two types of oilfish: large oilfish (the size of females who are larger than males reaches 25 cm) and small oilfish (females are about 15 cm in size). The large oilfish (golomyanka) was described as early as at the end of the 18th century by the scientist P. Pallas. Small oilfish is also called Dybovsky oilfish - after the name of the Polish naturalist Benedikt Dybovsky exiled to Siberia for his participation in a riot. Once he caught a small oilfish in an ice hole near Kultuk and what he found inside the fish was not roe, but the already hatched fries and made a conclusion about the fish’s unique viviparous ability. At the same time other fishes of Lake Baikal traditionally spawn or lay roe. Scientists know viviparous fishes of warm seas (sharks, mosquito fish), but in cold latitudes such a heroic deed can be performed only by Baikal oilfish. And the heroic deed of this fish also lays in the fact that the children are born at the cost of mother’s own life: after the birth of about 1000 live larvae mother-oilfish most often dies (although this fact does not affect the population of Baikal oilfish – according to scientists, it amounts to about 50 billion individuals).

The amazing Baikal oilfish (golomyanka) received its name from the old Russian word “golomen” meaning “open sea, far from the shore” in the local dialect and reflects the characteristic way of life of this unusual fish.

10 amazing facts about Baikal oilfish: 

- 70% of fish in Lake Baikal are Baikal oilfish
- The fish has no scales
- Its body almost by half consists of fat
- If you fry Baikal oilfish in a pan, then only the spine will remain - everything else will simply melt to fat
- The fish is viviparous
- After the childbirth mother-oilfish dies
- Baikal oilfish is a cannibal and eats young individuals of their kind
- Baikal oilfish has a huge mouth: its open mouth  is 1.5 times wider than its body
- Baikal oilfish сan live in an aquarium at home, provided that  water temperature is low (up to +6 C)
- Baikal oilfish is inedible for humans, cats and dogs do not eat it as well, but it is eaten by Baikal ringed seals with great pleasure.


The internal constitution of the Baikal oilfish is also unusual in comparison with other fishes. It does not have a swimming bladder characteristic of all fish. Oilfish consists of 40% fat inside, which gives it a translucent appearance. But the main thing is that this feature enables her to swim without a swimming bladder and survive in cold Baikal waters, even at great depth.

The body of the Baikal oilfish has another unique feature - it is smooth, without scales, which is also uncharacteristic of fish, especially in the northern latitudes. The oilfish has large fan-shaped pectoral fins, with their use the fish can rise closer to the water surface from the depth of 200-500 meters. These are the so-called vertical migrations exercised by the fish in search of food. At night the fish rises to the water surface to eat the planktonic epischura crustaceans or young oilfish, and during the day it hides from its natural enemies - Baikal seals and omul - at the depth of the lake. Near the water surface, where there is more plankton for food, the oilfish also gives birth to its offsprings. In general, this fish leads a single way of life and does not form fish groups.

The Baikal oilfish is not a commercial fish: due to its wandering in the water mass and at the depth of the lake, as well as its nightlife, it is not often caught by fishermen – by rod or bait, so its abundance in the lake, according to scientists, amounts to 70% of the entire biomass of the fish of Lake Baikal. But Baikal seals, sturgeons, omuls and other large fishes willingly feed on fat and nutritious oilfish. In olden days the fat melted from the oilfish was eagerly bought by the Chinese people who used it in folk medicine or for domestic purposes (like lamp oil or for lubricant for leather clothes or shoes).

Customarily Baikal oilfish lives at a depth of more than 100 meters, so people rarely see it swim freely. But in winter the fish can rise closer to the lake surface and can be caught through an ice hole or seen through the ice by the fans of winter fishing. Even more often the dead oilfish are brought to the shore after a night storm, in that case they become prey to birds. However, it is more interesting to admire the unique Baikal oilfish in aquariums and also to listen to an informative lecture about them at the Baikal Limnological Museum located in the settlement of Listvyanka

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