People, Environment

Iran, Russia Prioritize Caspian Seal Conservation

Iran, Russia Prioritize Caspian Seal ConservationIran, Russia Prioritize Caspian Seal Conservation

Scientific teams from Iran and Russia will start a joint research project to protect the Caspian Sea’s only mammal, a small member of the earless seal family known as the Caspian seal.

The Ecological Research Center of Shahid Beheshti University and the Caspian Seal Treatment and Research Center from Iran will undertake the project in cooperation with the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The Iranian team is currently outlining a proposal for the project under the supervision of Iran’s Vice Presidency for Science and Technology, which is responsible for all international collaborations, Marine News Agency reported.

The Caspian seal is endemic to the Caspian Sea and its population has decreased by more than 90% since the start of the 20th century.

Its population is continuing to decline due to threats arising from human impacts on the Caspian Sea ecosystem, which have lowered its status on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

Following the 2008 census, which showed a decline in the number of seals from 1 million to 100,000, IUCN announced that Caspian seals have been moved from “Vulnerable” to the more serious risk category “Endangered”.

The joint project is expected to be an effective measure toward saving the animal from extinction.

“If we don’t take action in time, the whole species might soon die out,” said Amir Sayyad Shirazi, in charge of the Caspian Seal Treatment and Research Center.

Although the species is exposed to a number of natural hazards, including predation and disease, human-caused mortality continues to pose the main threat to the animal.

Unsustainable hunting was the main driver of Caspian Seal decline during the 20th century and recently, by-catch of seals has been identified as a major blow to their chances of survival.

Pointing to the mass poaching of the seal by organized crime syndicates in Russia, Sayyad Shirazi stressed that Moscow must be convinced to take the issue more seriously and make efforts to stop the trend.

The official hoped that the political standing of Vladimir Fortov, president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, will help prevent seal hunting in Russia.

“Once the proposal for the project is ready, the plan must be approved by the two countries before being implemented,” said Sayyad Shirazi.

The project is expected to take at least three years to yield results. Russia has earmarked $30,000 for the first year of the conservation efforts that must be matched by the Iranian side.