Caspian seals are alive and their condition will improve as Kazakhstan takes steps to protect their population

ASTANA – the decrease in the number of seals became particularly acute in the spring of this year and became a matter of concern for both society and the state. It all started in April of this year with the news that dozens of dead seals were found on the shores of the Caspian Sea in Kazakhstan, which excited social network users.

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President of Kazakhstan Gasim-Jomart Tokayev touched on the catastrophic situation of Caspian seals and emphasized that their periodic deaths are a cause of serious concern. the sixth Caspian Summit June 29 in Ashgabat.

Astana Times talked to Assel Baimukanova, a specialist at the Kazakhstan Institute of Hydrobiology and Ecology, to find out the reasons for the plight of animals, whether the population decline can be called “mass death” and what initiatives can be taken for this. to protect the seal population.

It should be noted that the Caspian seal is the only mammal that migrates along the sea in the fauna ecosystem of the sea and is a transboundary bioresource.

Currently, the total number of seals in the Caspian Sea has about 400,000 species. Since 2020, the animal has been included in the list of rare and endangered species of the Red Book of Kazakhstan. It is also included in the Red Book of Russia, Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan, which share the sea with Kazakhstan.

Was the mass death of seals this spring really and what are the reasons for this event?

According to the press service of the Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources of Kazakhstan, 222 dead seals were found on the shores of the Caspian Sea in Kazakhstan since the beginning of 2022. On April 20-24, the wind brought 94 bodies of seals that had died a few months ago, so this event cannot be considered a mass death among animals.

According to Baymukanova, the Caspian seal has found a favorable habitat in Kazakhstan, and we bear a great responsibility for the protection of animals. Photo credit: Assel Baimukanova

Since all the bodies of the seals were in a state of serious decomposition, the specialists of the Institute of Hydrobiology and Ecology and the Scientific Research Center of Microbiology and Virology, who were investigating the causes of death, could not take tissue samples.

According to scientists, newborn seals could have died due to exhaustion and freezing, while adults were caught in fishing nets, and other seals fell under the propellers of ships.

“It is difficult to say whether their death was mass because the seals probably died at different times. When we started investigating the death of the animals, we found that the seals were in various stages of decay. We were only able to perform a mechanical examination of the carcasses and take teeth for age analysis. After examining 67 people, we realized that 25 percent of them had mechanical damage,” said Baymukanova, recalling the results of the previous expedition.

One of the expeditions in which Bailumakova participated. Photo credit:

What are the known hazards to animals?

The ministry identified three main threats to seals:

1. Climate change in recent years has caused frequent extremely warm winters and reduced ice cover in the northern part of the Caspian Sea. This creates unfavorable conditions for seals to breed on the ice.

2. Icebreakers pass through the ice sheet to service oil and gas fields, which is another unfavorable anthropogenic factor during the seal breeding season. As a result of the collapse of the ice cover, mother and cub pairs are often broken, which can lead to the death of babies. Adult seals are also at high risk when they fall under the screws of icebreakers.

3. Another danger for animals is the pollution of the Caspian Sea. Increased environmental toxicity can cause not only direct deaths but also “slow death”. Seals accumulate toxic waste in their bodies, and because of this, they lose their immunity, become susceptible to various diseases and die.

Studies show that seals have stopped inhabiting Mali Rybachiy Island and Këhirli Islands in recent years due to some anthropogenic impacts, especially shipping, fishing and uncontrolled human visits. Author of the photo: M. Baimukanov

The state plans to maintain the number of Caspian seals

The ministry informed that in September 2021, the head of state instructed the government to study the possibilities of creating specially protected natural areas in the North Caspian Sea in order to preserve the population of Caspian seals and protect their living and breeding areas.

As part of the project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2023, authorities are currently investigating the boundaries, conservation regime and use of nature reserves to protect the Caspian seal population. study to reveal the potential and practicality of the proposed plan.

Diana Akual, ​​an illustrator, creates postcards and posters with a colleague as part of a project that aims to help. The Kazakhstan Institute of Hydrobiology and Ecology conducts scientific research on the Caspian seal. Photo credit: Diana Akual’s Instagram account

Commenting on this initiative, Baymukanova noted that the creation of a national nature reserve is very important, because environmentalists hope that the places where seals live will be protected by the state.

“We recommend the establishment of rehabilitation centers in the territory of the reserve, because we see seals getting caught in fishing nets. We released some seals, but we could not save others,” said Baymukanova.

Suggestions for population protection from Assel Baimukanova

In response to the question of what other measures can be taken to maintain the population, Baymukanova said that the government should impose restrictions on shipping, clean the sea from fishing nets, educate people and tell them that seals are not competitors because they do not feed. on fish eaten by humans.

“We also need to do research because we know so little about the number of animals. Secondly, due to the regression of the Caspian Sea, seals often cannot find suitable habitats, and we need to learn how seals adapt to changes in their natural habitat, said the ecologist.

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