By Faranak Bakhtiari

Alarming decline of Caspian seals worrisome

June 18, 2021 - 17:51

TEHRAN – Marine pollution has plagued the ecosystem for many years, a factor that will soon lead to the extinction of Caspian seals.

The Caspian seal, the sole marine mammal inhabiting the Caspian Sea, has faced a sharp decline in population over the past three decades, pushing the species towards extinction, Asghar Abdoli, a faculty member of Shahid Beheshti University for environmental sciences, said.

“The seal gives birth to its offspring on floating ice in the northern parts and comes to the middle and southern parts for feeding, so it can be said that this species depends on both the north and the southern parts of the Caspian Sea to survive,” he explained.

One of the events that push the species toward extinction is climate change and its impact on the water, which has caused the northern parts of the Caspian Sea not to freeze in recent years so that this creature will face difficulties for the place of birth, he stated.

He went on to note that over recent years, the outbreak of the distemper virus has caused the death of thousands of Caspian seals.

Another problem is the illegal hunting for their skin in the northern parts of the Caspian Sea, but in recent years, due to the endangered status, hunting has been stopped to some extent, he added.

“The important point is the disruption of the food chains of the Caspian Sea.

Overfishing of Black Sea sprat along with the entry of invasive species has reduced the population of the Caspian seals by up to 90 percent.

One of the most influential factors for the survival of this species has been food, so when the food resources decrease, so does the species of animals that feed on it,” he said.

Another important factor is the impact of climate change. Climate change predictions for the Caspian Sea show that the northern parts of the Sea will be largely destroyed, as a few centimeters of the sea level shrink each year, and it is predicted that by the end of this century between 9-18 of the sea levels will decline, he explained.

“We must take a holistic view of ecology and ecosystems, taking into account economic and social issues, so that we can rehabilitate part of the habitats and part of the species population,” he added.

In the southern part of the Sea, one of the safe areas for species breeding is the Ashuradeh region, which is under construction for tourism development. In addition to seals, this region is also a habitat for birds and plants, Amir Shirazi, a representative of the Caspian seal medical and research center in Iran, told YJC.

In 2006, studies on seals for the first time showed that the population was declining sharply, by more than 90 percent. It was also announced in 2007 that the results of the census show 100,000 seals so that the species was listed at the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) red list, he said.

“In 2000, during six months, 10,000 Caspian seal carcasses were found on the shores of five littoral states due to distemper viral disease.

In 2010, the first Caspian seal treatment and research center in Iran was set up on Ashuradeh Island, which was based on three pillars of training, rescue, and research, and in 2017 with the help of Iran, the second center was established in Kazakhstan,” he stated.

Sea pollution and diseases are among the factors contributing to the decline in the Caspian seals, he concluded.

The oil spill, industrial waste as well as heavy metals, agricultural pesticides, radioactive waste, wastewater, and household waste entering the sea, and noise pollution caused by oil and gas refineries, and excessive boat traffic have pushed the species toward extinction through poisoning them.

National plan to protect Caspian seals

The National Action Plan to protect the endangered Caspian seals was prepared on March 21, carried out under the supervision of the DOE with the cooperation of non-governmental organizations and all responsible bodies.

Caspian seals included on CMS

Caspian seals are included in Appendices I and II of the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).

As per Appendix I of the Convention, poaching and illegal fishing activities are banned to save the animals from extinction, while Iran has not had a share in illegal fishing of the species since the very beginning, she concluded.

Over the 12th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CMS COP12) to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), administered by UN Environment on October 28, 2017, Caspian seals were included on Appendices I and II of the Convention.

According to the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals Website, Appendix I comprises migratory species that have been assessed as being in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range.

Appendix II covers migratory species that have unfavorable conservation status and that require international agreements for their conservation and management, as well as those that have a conservation status that would significantly benefit from the international cooperation that could be achieved by an international agreement.

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