Caspian scientists save Caspian seal

The first stage of the complex expedition "The Soul of the Caspian Sea" has been completed in Astrakhan region. The project was developed by the Clean Seas Foundation together with leading specialists of the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences with the support of LUKOIL. The Astrakhan Nature Reserve took an active part in the expedition.

"Ecology was the main topic at this year's XVII Forum of Interregional Cooperation between Russia and Kazakhstan," commented Vladimir Golovkov, Head of Foreign Affairs Agency of Astrakhan Region. – One of the important issues is rescue of Caspian seal. In the XXI century, its population has decreased tenfold. A joint action plan of the two countries has been outlined and is being implemented. Astrakhan biologists are actively involved in its implementation."

The first stage of the expedition started on October 25. On an amphibious aircraft La-8, scientific and film crews flew around the Russian coast of the Caspian Sea from the border with Kazakhstan to Makhachkala. At the helm was the Hero of Russia, a test pilot of the 1st class, our countryman Valery Tokarev.

The expedition members completed four flights along pre-planned routes with a total length of about 2,600 kilometers, exploring an area of more than 12 thousand square kilometers. In addition to seals, scientists observed during the flights a lot of birds, shoals of fish, abandoned fishing nets and numerous boats in the Dagestan waters of the Caspian Sea.

From a height of 200 to 500 meters, it was possible to visually record about 500 seals. The main part of the animals were on the island of Maly Zhemchuzhny and sand islands next to it.

The second stage of the expedition was to start on November 1.

"Due to bad weather in the Caspian Sea, the expedition group went to sea a week later," says Kirill Litvinov, Deputy Director of the Astrakhan Nature Reserve for Scientific Work. "We managed to catch five adult females and two teenage male seals."

The largest female weighed 85 kg. Maria Solovyova, a leading seal specialist at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Candidate of Biological Sciences, made the necessary measurements, determined the age by the claws, took blood for analysis, wool and whiskers of the vibris seal.

The results of genetic tests will help to find out the structure of the seal population in the northern Caspian Sea, blood tests – seal diseases, and hormone analysis will show the level of chronic stress of animals.

In addition, with the "submission" of scientists, five large mammals received an unusual "decoration" satellite transmitters. According to them, it will be possible to track the movement of seals until the spring - the period of their molting.

"The last expedition is only the first step of the "Soul of the Caspian Sea" project. There is still a lot of work ahead, including the development of a strategy for the conservation of seals–" says Nikolai Tsymlyansky, director of the Astrakhan Nature Reserve. "The ultimate goal is to help the Caspian seal feel comfortable in the expanses of the Caspian Sea."

Astrakhan biologists acquainted Kazakh colleagues from the Center for the Study and Rehabilitation of the Caspian Seal in Aktau with the results of the expedition. She aroused great interest among the neighbors.

"We are open to cooperation, ready to take part in joint expeditions," says Adylkhan Tovasarov, director of the Center for the Study and Rehabilitation of the Caspian Seal in Aktau. – Over the past two years, 35 Caspian seals have been examined for injuries in our center, we managed to save 14 endemic Caspian seals. I am sure that joint work will allow us to study possible reasons for the reduction in the number of red book animals of the Caspian Sea."

This topic is also relevant in Iran. According to the Environmental Protection Organization of Iran, since the beginning of 2021, more than 30 dead Caspian seals have been found on the Iranian sea coast. Environmentalists of the neighboring state appealed to the relevant organizations of the Astrakhan region with a request to help them understand the causes of this emergency and make proposals to prevent the reduction of marine animals in the Caspian Sea.

Astrakhan scientists responded to the request of their Iranian colleagues. The joint action plan is currently being clarified.

Photo provided by the Astrakhan Nature Reserve.