The Caspian Seal was recently reclassified from “Vulnerable” to “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The reclassification occurred after scientists found that the Caspian Seal population had dropped 90 percent in the past 100 years.
The scientists, from the University of Leeds, worked together with international partners to discover that the seal’s population has plummeted from 1 million at the start of the 20th century, to approximately 100,000 today.
The Main Causes
The main causes of the Caspian Seal population decline is:
- Commercial hunting
- Habitat degradation
- Drowning in fishing nets
Low Breeding Cycle
Seals are known for their long breeding cycle, which will not help with reviving the population of the species.
“Each female has just one pup a year, so with numbers at such a low levels, every fertile female that dies is a nail in the coffin of the species,” said Dr Simon Goodman of Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences.
He added, “We’re hoping that the seal’s change in Red List status will help raise awareness about their plight, and the many important conservation issues facing the whole Caspian ecosystem.”
Furthermore, results of 2005 and 2006 surveys published recently in the scientific journal Ambio, reveal that there are only 17,000 breeding females. Given the low survival rate of pups, this is barely enough to keep the Caspian Seal population alive.
Also, more recent surveys in 2007 and 2008 show that since 2005, the number of pups being born has dropped 60 percent to between 6,000 or 7,000. And as if that isn’t bad enough, the surveys found that there were 30 percent less adults on the breeding ground than in 2005.
Commercial Hunters Killing Pups
The team say that commercial hunters from Dagestan in the Russian Federation are responsible for the killing of 8,000 Caspian Seal pups in recent years.
“Without a suite of conservation measures there is a very high risk the species will become extinct, and possibly within our lifetime,” says Dr Goodman.
The team is developing a conservation action plan, which will prioritise a ban on hunting the seal and establish protected areas with the countries bordering the Caspian Sea.