The ice stage of studying the Caspian seal is taking place in the Caspian Sea

Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia 01 March 2023 12:28

Russian scientists and environmentalists are conducting an aviation ice record of seals over the waters of the Russian part of the Caspian Sea. Winter accounting of the number of red-book pinnipeds was organized by the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia, it will last until mid-March. This period is the most effective for counting, since almost all seals come to breed in Russian territorial waters, where there is a large ice cover.

"The Caspian seal is a red Book animal and endemic to the Caspian Sea, so we have a special responsibility for its conservation. Our task is not just to support rare species, but to take the most important measures to preserve them in key habitats. This is what the state policy being developed by the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia is aimed at," said the Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology of Russia. Alexander Kozlov.

February is the optimal month for studying the species. At this time, the entire population gathers on the ice, where the birth of baby squirrels takes place. The task of the Russian expeditionary group is to conduct an aerial survey of seals in the western, Russian zone of the Northern Caspian, while Kazakh colleagues will perform similar work in the eastern part of the Caspian.

This year, the implementation of the project became possible thanks to the initiative of the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia and the support of PJSC LUKOIL. The research is carried out by specialists in marine mammals of the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO) and the Institute of Ecology and Evolution. Severtsova (IPEE RAS) together with employees of the ecological Fund "Clean Seas".

"During the work, scientists use two types of Russian-made aircraft equipped with optical and infrared video and photographic equipment. The joint use of a manned aircraft and drones will significantly improve the accuracy of the population estimate. And the presence of thermal imagers on board will help specialists to find not only adult seals, but also squirrels on the ice, which it is impossible to see with the human eye from a height. A special research vessel will be watching the animals from the surface of the water. Satellite tagging of animals is also provided. In addition to the number of seals, scientists will also conduct research on their habitats, especially areas of natural gas emissions. In parallel, experts will monitor birds and fish on the Russian coast," the head of the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia noted. Alexander Kozlov.

To date, three flights on the manned amphibious aircraft La-8 with a total length of 2.4 thousand kilometers and five flights of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) "DIAM-Aero" with a total length of over 2.5 thousand kilometers have already been carried out along the planned routes. And the area of the surveyed water area was more than nine thousand square kilometers.

It is necessary to fly along the routes in the difficult climatic conditions of the Caspian Sea with its unpredictability and the strongest February winds. The La-8 has a specially designed retractable device – a video recording system.

Simultaneously with the aircraft, silent UAVs, unnoticed by seals, scan in detail the detected clusters for detailed accounting of their numbers and registration of dimensional characteristics.

During the aerial survey in the Russian part of the Northern Caspian Sea, encounters with seals were recorded along the southern edge of the ice fields adjacent to the Volga Delta. These are mostly individuals and small groups of three to 15 seals. The exact figures will appear after processing the materials obtained with the help of monitoring systems (photo, video camera and thermal imager) installed on aircraft.

At the beginning of the XX century, the number of seals in the Caspian Sea was 1.2 million individuals. In the 70s of the XX century, during the rapid development of the Caspian Sea, the number of animals decreased to 600 thousand. According to the latest data of scientists, the number of Caspian seals is about 300 thousand individuals. In 2020, this species was listed in the Red Book of Russia. 

Every year, dead seals are found on the coast of the Caspian Sea. Basically, scientists attribute this to underwater emissions of natural gas (methane and related gases). The Caspian Sea basin is characterized by various oil and gas manifestations – mud volcanoes, griffins, etc. Their intensity increases sharply with seismic phenomena. Earthquakes cause local emissions of gases, which in low-wind conditions form polluted air lenses above the sea surface: it is impossible to breathe in them. Accordingly, seals swimming at this time are suffocating. And then the current throws their bodies ashore. The last release of dead seals occurred in December 2022. Scientists of the Russian Academy of Sciences and VNIRO have repeatedly stressed, and laboratory studies of the Federal Center for Animal Health and Rosselkhoznadzor confirm this, that the dead Caspian seals were well-fed, healthy and no influenza viruses of type A and subtype H5, rabies, adeno-, parvo-, morbili-, capripox- and orthopoxviruses, SARS- were found in their bodies.CoV-2, as well as pathogens of pasteurellosis, mycoplasmosis, clostridiosis, chlamydia and brucellosis.