“This morning is hardly said to be good. There are corpses all over the shore in the Reductorny village” – the commentary on a photograph with dead seals lying on the seashore in Makhachkala was published on Facebook. A correspondent of the Youth of Dagestan Republican Newspaper asked questions to the director of the Institute of Ecology and Sustainable Development (Makhachkala, Russia) to understand why this could happen.
– We went out examined these seals. Most likely, they were entangled in fishing nets. The corpses were old, apparently, they had been floating in the sea for two or three weeks, and they were carried by the current. Now the migration of seals to the North Caspian begins, and by the end of December, as usual, dead animals will often be carried ashore, said Alimurad Gadzhiev, Director of the Institute.
The ecologist noted that, unfortunately, there was nothing unusual in that.
– Nothing unusual, but it is tragic that many animals get into fishing nets and die. The number of Caspian seals has declined catastrophically. Based on the opinion of scientists, about 70-100 thousand individuals live in the Caspian now. Although half a century ago there were about a million of them.
To try to save the Caspian seal, the species was listed in the Red Book of Dagestan in 2019.
– This involves a number of conservation and monitoring measures. Our Institute is actively working in this direction. We have been supported by Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, which is a member of the Russian Geographical Society Council. This is an extensive program, we are implementing it with the Center for Caucasus Nature ANO. This program involves a set of measures: seal patrol, environmental monitoring – the water quality monitoring, examination of dead animals, the scientist explained.
Dagestan environmentalists want to inscribe the Caspian seal into the Red Book of Russia. But not all support this idea.
– Colleagues from the All-Russian Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography are actively opposing the species to be listed in the Red Book of Russia. Why? If it is a commercial species, the institute receives money from the state every year to justify the total allowable catch. They may lose these funds.
In recent years, the commercial hunting on Caspian seals has not been carried out. But there were times when a hundred thousand animals were caught each year in the Caspian.
– In Soviet times, during the sealing, Dagestan scored a hundred thousand individuals. Fat, fur was used, for example, during the Great Patriotic War. And in the postwar years, the seal was a commercial object.
After inscribing the Caspian seal into the Red Book, its catch in Dagestan is a criminal offense. The other day, a criminal case against three residents of the Republic of Dagestan, accused of illegally obtaining seals in the Caspian Sea, was sent to court. The investigation found that citizens on a small boat went to the Caspian Sea and installed at least four fixed fishing nets of 100 meters each about 30 kilometers from the coast. Unfortunately, seals were also caught in these nets. That was used by local fishermen. They removed their fur, and threw the carcasses into the sea. On the way back, they were detained by border guards. They were charged under three articles of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.
But Alimurad Gadzhiev notes that cases of deliberate poaching on seals are rare.
– I communicate very closely with fishermen. 99.9 percent of them do not specifically hunt on seals. If they find alive seals in fishing net, they release them. And if not alive – then, unfortunately, they are skinning.
At the same time, there are poachers who know where seal rookeries are and throw nets there. Then animals are slaughtered and skinned. On one day, 60 skins were found in a boat. However, you must understand that the Caspian is five states: Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. These problems are there and poachers too. In Kazakhstan there are even more of them. Somewhere poaching is controlled, somewhere – not… The species is currently in a dangerous condition. It was listed in the International Red Book and in the Red Books of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan. In Iran, the Caspian seal was also given protected status.
Due to the lack of a unified environmental monitoring program for all five countries with access to the Caspian, it is difficult to work on preserving seals, said the interlocutor of the Youth of Dagestan Republican Newspaper. In Dagestan, for ten years, the number of seals has not been counted. The last, unsuccessful, attempt was this year.
– The latest aerial surveys were carried out in 2012. Ecological methods of calculation – the concentration of animals in a certain area. Naturally, it is impossible to count each individual separately. But even such studies have not been conducted for a long time. There were attempts in early 2019. Even the plane was lifted into the air. But the Kazakh side did not allow the flight – violation of the boundaries of the country’s airspace, said Gadzhiev.
Entanglement in fishing nets is perhaps one of the main causes for Caspian seals death.
– The seal is a migratory species. From the middle Caspian, they are now migrating north. Therefore, they got into fishing nets. For several days, the fishermen did not check the nets – there was no weather. And the seals died in nets.
But in addition to this, environmental pollution, diseases and viruses, and the reduction of natural habitats also affect seals.
– Last year, over 300 dead seals were counted on the coast along a ten-kilometer stretch. This year, statistics are still being maintained. But from year to year the situation does not improve. The number of beached animals is reduced. But this is not because someone has taken any conservation measures. This is because the population is declining, unfortunately.
A “seal patrol” was organized to monitor the coastline at the Institute of Ecology and Sustainable Development of DSU.
– This group, which includes fishermen, graduate students, students and scientists, monitors the coast. Now dead seals are often found on the shore. Due to the nature of the currents and the concentration of fishing villages, most often – near Sulak and in the northern part of the Caspian, said Gadzhiev.
The Institute has an idea and even has developed a plan to create a rehabilitation center for seals on Lake Ak-Gyol in Makhachkala. But there has not been money for its implementation yet.
Author: Anastasia Rasulova.
Photos by Evgeniy Kostin.
Source: Youth of Dagestan Republican Newspaper.