ASTANA – The reduction in the seal population has become particularly acute this spring and has become a matter of concern for society and the state. It all started with reports of dozens of dead seals found on the coast of the Kazakh part of the Caspian Sea, which agitated social media users in April this year.

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When sixth summit of the Caspian June 29 in Ashgabat.

The Astana Times spoke to Assel Baimukanova, a specialist at the Kazakh Institute of Hydrobiology and Ecology, to find out the reasons for the fate of the animals, whether the population decline can be called “mass mortality” and what initiatives can be taken to preserve the seal population.

It should be noted that the Caspian seal is the only mammal in the ecosystem of marine fauna, which migrates throughout the sea and is a cross-border bioresource.

At present, the total population of seals in the Caspian Sea is about 400,000 species. The animal has been included in the list of rare and endangered species of the Kazakh Red Book since 2020. It is also listed in the Red Book of Russia, Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan, which share the sea with Kazakhstan.

Was it really a mass death of seals this spring and what are the reasons for this phenomenon?

According to the press service of the Kazakh Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources, since the beginning of 2022, 222 dead seals have been found on the Kazakh coast of the Caspian Sea. From April 20 to 24, the wind brought the bodies of 94 seals, which must have died a few months earlier, so this case cannot be considered a mass mortality among animals.

The Caspian seal has found convenient habitats in Kazakhstan and we bear a great responsibility in preserving the animals, according to Baimukanova. Photo credit: Assel Baimukanova

Specialists from the Institute of Hydrobiology and Ecology and the Center for Research in Microbiology and Virology, who were investigating the causes of death, could not take tissue samples because all the seal carcasses were found in a state of severe decomposition.

Newborn seals may have died from exhaustion and freezing, scientists say, while adult seals appear to have been caught in fishing nets, while still other seals fell under the propellers of sailing ships.

“It is difficult to say that their death was massive, because the seals probably died at different times. When we started looking at animal mortality, we noticed that the seals were in different stages of decomposition. We were only able to do a mechanical examination of the corpses, and we took fangs for the age analysis. After examining 67 individuals, we realized that 25% of them were mechanically damaged,” Baimukanova said, recalling the results of the last expedition.

One of the expeditions in which Bailumakova took part. Photo credit:

What are the known threats to animals?

The ministry highlighted three main threats to the seal population:

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

2. Icebreakers cross 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 destruction of the ice cover, mother-calf pairs are often broken, which can lead to the death of babies. There is also a high risk to adult seals when they fall under icebreaker screws.

3. Another threat to animals is the pollution of the Caspian Sea. Increased environmental toxicity can lead not only to direct cases of mortality, but also to “slow death”. Toxic emissions accumulate in the body of seals, so that they lose their immunity and become susceptible to various diseases and die.

Research shows that seals have ceased to inhabit Malyi Rybachiy and Kendirli Islands in recent years due to some anthropogenic impacts, particularly shipping, fishing, and uncontrolled human visitation. Photo credit: Mr. Baimukanov

The state plans to preserve the Caspian seal population

The ministry said the head of state instructed the government to study the possibility of creating specially protected natural territories in the northern Caspian Sea to preserve the Caspian seal population and protect their habitats and areas. breeding in September 2021.

To date, the authorities are reviewing the boundaries, protection regime and use of nature reserves for the conservation of the Caspian seal population under the project, which is expected to be completed in 2023. Later, the authorities will carry out a feasibility study. study to discover the potential and practicality of the proposed plan.

Illustrator Diana Akual creates postcards and posters with her colleague as part of the project, which aims to help The Kazakh Institute of Hydrobiology and Ecology conducts scientific research on the Caspian seal. Photo credit: Instagram account of Diana Akual

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

“We recommend establishing rehabilitation centers in the nature reserve area as we find seals entangled in fishing nets. We let go of some seals and we also failed to save others,” Baimukanova said.

Proposals to preserve the population of Assel Baimukanova

In response to the question of what other measures can be taken to preserve the population, Baimukanova said that the government must introduce navigation restrictions, clean the sea of ​​fishing nets, educate people and tell them that seals are not not competitors because they don’t feed. on the fish eaten by people.

“We also need to carry out research because we know little about the number of animals. And second, seals often cannot find suitable habitats due to the shrinking Caspian Sea, and we need to learn how seals adapt to changes in their natural habitats,” the conservationist said.


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