The Baltic Sea is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean, enclosed by Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Sweden and the North and Central European Plain.
The sea stretches from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 10°E to 30°E longitude. A marginal sea of the Atlantic, with limited water exchange between the two water bodies, the Baltic Sea drains through the Danish Straits into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, Great Belt and Little Belt. It includes the Gulf of Bothnia, the Bay of Bothnia, the Gulf of Finland, the Gulf of Riga and the Bay of Gdańsk.
The Baltic Proper is bordered on its northern edge, at latitude 60°N, by Åland and the Gulf of Bothnia, on its northeastern edge by the Gulf of Finland, on its eastern edge by the Gulf of Riga, and in the west by the Swedish part of the southern Scandinavian Peninsula.
The Baltic Sea is connected by artificial waterways to the White Sea via the White Sea-Baltic Canal and to the German Bight of the North Sea via the Kiel Canal.
The fauna of the Baltic Sea is a mixture of marine and freshwater species. Among marine fishes are Atlantic cod, Atlantic herring, European hake, European plaice, European flounder, shorthorn sculpin and turbot, and examples of freshwater species include European perch, northern pike, whitefish and common roach. Freshwater species may occur at outflows of rivers or streams in all coastal sections of the Baltic Sea. Otherwise marine species dominate in most sections of the Baltic, at least as far north as Gävle, where less than one-tenth are freshwater species. Further north the pattern is inverted. In the Bothnian Bay, roughly two-thirds of the species are freshwater. In the far north of this bay, saltwater species are almost entirely absent. For example, the common starfish and shore crab, two species that are very widespread along European coasts, are both unable to cope with the significantly lower salinity. Their range limit is west of Bornholm, meaning that they are absent from the vast majority of the Baltic Sea. Some marine species, like the Atlantic cod and European flounder, can survive at relatively low salinities but need higher salinities to breed, which therefore occurs in deeper parts of the Baltic Sea.
There is a decrease in species richness from the Danish belts to the Gulf of Bothnia. The decreasing salinity along this path causes restrictions in both physiology and habitats. At more than 600 species of invertebrates, fish, aquatic mammals, aquatic birds and macrophytes, the Arkona Basin (roughly between southeast Zealand and Bornholm) is far richer than other more eastern and northern basins in the Baltic Sea, which all have less than 400 species from these groups, with the exception of the Gulf of Finland with more than 750 species. However, even the most diverse sections of the Baltic Sea have far fewer species than the almost-full saltwater Kattegat, which is home to more than 1600 species from these groups. The lack of tides has affected the marine species as compared with the Atlantic.
Since the Baltic Sea is so young there are only two or three known endemic species: the brown alga Fucus radicans and the flounder Platichthys solemdali. Both appear to have evolved in the Baltic basin and were only recognized as species in 2005 and 2018 respectively, having formerly been confused with more widespread relatives. The tiny Copenhagen cockle (Parvicardium hauniense), a rare mussel, is sometimes considered endemic, but has now been recorded in the Mediterranean. However, some consider non-Baltic records to be misidentifications of juvenile lagoon cockles (Cerastoderma glaucum). Several widespread marine species have distinctive subpopulations in the Baltic Sea adapted to the low salinity, such as the Baltic Sea forms of the Atlantic herring and lumpsucker, which are smaller than the widespread forms in the North Atlantic.
A peculiar feature of the fauna is that it contains a number of glacial relict species, isolated populations of arctic species which have remained in the Baltic Sea since the last glaciation, such as the large isopod Saduria entomon, the Baltic subspecies of ringed seal, and the fourhorn sculpin. Some of these relicts are derived from glacial lakes, such as Monoporeia affinis, which is a main element in the benthic fauna of the low-salinity Bothnian Bay.
Cetaceans in the Baltic Sea are monitored by the countries bordering the sea and data compiled by various intergovernmental bodies, such as ASCOBANS. A critically endangered population of harbor porpoise inhabit the Baltic proper, whereas the species is abundant in the outer Baltiuc (Western Baltic and Danish Straits) and occasionally oceanic and out-of-range species such as minke whales, bottlenose dolphins, beluga whales, orcas, and beaked whales visit the waters. In recent years, very small, but with increasing rates, fin whales and humpback whales migrate into Baltic sea including mother and calf pair. Now extinct Atlantic grey whales (remains found from Gräsö along Bothnian Sea/southern Bothnian Gulf and Ystad) and eastern population of North Atlantic right whales that is facing functional extinction once migrated into Baltic Sea.
Other notable megafauna include the basking sharks.