The Caspian seal is also called the Caspian seal. Outwardly, they really are very reminiscent of seals. They have a streamlined body, a small, rounded head, and a spindle-shaped torso. Not so long ago, zoologists considered a very cute, fluffy animal to be a pinniped family.
Today, these representatives of the animal world are considered predators that are on the verge of extinction. The situation is complicated by the fact that in the Russian Federation this species of animals is not listed in the Red Book and a quota is provided for seal hunting.
Origin of the species and description
The Caspian seal belongs to the chordate mammals, is a representative of the order of carnivores, the family of true seals, isolated in the genus of the seal and the species of the Caspian seal. The species is further subdivided into two subspecies. Gradation occurs depending on the reservoir in which the animals live. Two species live in sea water, one in fresh water.
Seals are considered one of the oldest animals on Earth. There is no reliable information about their origin and evolution. Zoologists have established that their ancient ancestors existed on Earth in the Tertiary period. However, they had a slightly different appearance. They had limbs that evolved into flippers.
Video: Caspian seal
Presumably, they are the ancestors of the southern seals, or seals, which lived in the Sarmas-Pantenic basin, one of the remaining reservoirs of which is the Caspian Sea. Scientists suggest that the ancient ancestor from which the Caspian seal originated is the ringed seal. It existed on earth about two million years ago. Subsequently, it moved to the Caspian and Baikal, and gave rise to two new species of seals, one of which is the Caspian seal.
The remains of animals that the researchers managed to find were found not only on the coast, but also on the territory of rocks and hills, as well as on large floating glaciers, which are found in large numbers in the Caspian Sea. During the period of thick ice melting, the remains of the ancient ancestors of modern Caspian seals were discovered on the Volga coast, as well as in the southern regions of the Caspian Sea.
Appearance and features
The shape of the body of a predatory animal looks very much like a spindle. Such a body allows you to easily and quickly move in the water expanses. The body length of an adult varies from 130 to 170 centimeters, body weight is 40-120 kilograms. In these mammals, sexual dimorphism is slightly pronounced. Males are somewhat larger, their coat color is darker, the muzzle is slightly more elongated.
Seals have practically no neck, or it is weakly expressed. The body almost immediately passes into a small head with a flattened skull and an elongated nose. When viewed from the front, the muzzle of the animal is outwardly very similar to a cat's, except for the absence of ears. Their seals are replaced by auditory canals, which are located on the lateral surface of the head. Outwardly, they are nowhere to be seen.
Caspian seals have very large, black, round, expressive eyes. Black, huge eyes in small cubs stand out especially. On a small body covered with light fluff, they seem simply huge. Babies look like owls. The eyes have a special structure, due to which the eyes are covered with a protective film when the seal is in the water. Eyes in open space often water, so it seems that the animal is crying.
The Caspian seals have a fairly developed layer of subcutaneous fat. This allows the seals to endure the harsh cold climate, lack of food, and also feel comfortable in icy water. It allows animals to bask on the surface of the sea surface.
The skin of the Caspian seal is durable. The skin is covered with dense, hard and very thick hair, which helps not to feel cold and not to freeze in icy water. The coat in adults has a dirty white hue, which is darker in the back area, almost olive in color.
The limbs are designed in such a way as to help move in the water. There are webbing between the fingers. The forelimbs have strong, long claws. They are designed to make a hole in the ice. In this way, animals get out of the water onto land, or capture the air.
Where does the Caspian seal live?
Animals got their name due to their habitat. They live exclusively on the territory of the Caspian Sea from Iran itself to the Caspian Sea. The southern coast of the Caspian Sea has practically no seal populations.
Interesting fact. Caspian seal — it is the only mammal that lives in the Caspian Sea.
Caspian seals migrate to other territories every season. With the beginning of the winter season, all animals move to the glaciers of the northern region of the Caspian Sea. At the end of winter and the onset of a warmer season, the glaciers gradually decrease in size and melt.
Then the animals move to the territory of the middle and southern coast of the Caspian Sea. There is a sufficient amount of food base here, which allows you to accumulate a sufficient amount of subcutaneous fat, which will help you survive the harsh, sometimes hungry winter.
In the warm season, the Caspian seal often finds itself at the mouth of the Volga and the Urals. Often the animals can be seen drifting freely on separate, large ice floes. The researchers noted that in winter most of the time the animals are in the water, and in the warm season, on the contrary, they mostly live on land.
What does the Caspian seal eat?
Caspian the seal belongs to the predatory mammals. The seal gets its food in the water.
What can serve as a food base for the Caspian seal:
- Sandy sculpin;
A favorite delicacy for these animals are various types of gobies. Sometimes they can eat fish in large numbers, or small marine invertebrates. Shrimps and various types of crustaceans make up no more than 1-2% of the total diet of animals. Previously, it was believed that it was the Caspian seals that in large numbers destroy whitefish populations by eating them. However, as it turned out later, this fish can only be accidentally caught as food for seals.
Food source and taste preferences are independent of season and climate. To search for food, the animal dives under water. Sometimes, in search of the required amount of food supply, a huge distance swims. Can dive to a depth of up to eighty-five meters. One adult requires 3.5 – 6 kilograms of food per day. The process of digestion of the food eaten takes about 2.5 — 4 hours.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
Mammals spend most of their lives in water. Caspian seals are considered excellent swimmers. The spindle-shaped body and small streamlined head help it dive well and stay under water for up to an hour and a half. During diving under water, the nostrils and ear canals are closed, and the animal can breathe thanks to the huge volume of the lungs and the supply of oxygen that has accumulated in them. Often animals even sleep on the surface of the sea surface without going ashore.
Interesting fact. The Caspian seal has a very strong, serene sleep. Often, researchers described such a phenomenon that, swimming up to an animal sleeping on the water, they turned it over with its muzzle down, and the seals continued to sleep calmly, not reacting to people.
With the onset of winter, mammals go into the water and stay there almost until spring, occasionally going out on land in order to get air. Animals have certain places where they like to be on land – the so-called rookeries. Animals come to their rookeries with the onset of the breeding season.
Animals are distinguished by excellent hearing and smell, as well as sharp eyesight. They are distrustful and very cautious behavior. Animals are extremely vigilant during the period when they are on land. Noticing or suspecting danger, they immediately silently descend into the water.
Outwardly, mammals seem to be clumsy, clumsy animals. However, this is a big misconception. They are very energetic, nimble, and almost never get tired. If necessary, they can develop a fairly high speed in the water – up to 30 km/h. In calm mode, they swim much more slowly. On land, they move by means of the forelimbs and tail, which are alternately sorted out.
Seals tend to lead an isolated, solitary lifestyle. They are grouped in flocks only during the period of marriage. But even at this time, they try to keep their distance and avoid each other.
Social structure and reproduction
Puberty occurs when animals reach 6-7 years of age, and in males it occurs later than females. Adult females bring offspring either every year or once every two to three years. 10-11% of sexually mature females do not bear offspring after the end of the mating season.
The mating season for seals begins with the onset of spring, when the seals emerge from the water onto land. The gestation period lasts 10-11 months. Females give birth to their young while on the ice. It is during this period that they are easy prey for predators. One female can give birth to one to three babies. They are born covered in thick white down. That is why they are called pups. Initially, the cubs feed on mother's milk. This period lasts for 2-4 months, depending on climatic conditions and temperature conditions.
Interesting fact. Caspian seals are unique animals that are endowed with the ability to deliberately delay or resume intrauterine development of embryos. This is due to the too harsh climate of the local winters, when the babies will definitely not survive when they are born in this period.
Even before the birth of offspring, animals build special shelters from snow, in which they then feed their babies. Then the mother gradually transfers them to an adult diet, allowing them to try fish, crustaceans and small invertebrates. Until the moment when the seal cubs switch to an adult diet, the color of their coat completely changes to normal, adult. Males do not take any part in the upbringing of offspring. Caring for and feeding babies is exclusively maternal care.
Zoologists say that if they exist in favorable conditions and with a sufficient amount of food supply, life expectancy can reach 50 years. However, today the real life expectancy of mammals rarely exceeds 15 years. If we consider that the animal grows up to twenty years, then most of the representatives of predatory mammals do not even live up to middle age.
Interesting fact. The exact age of an individual can be determined by counting the number of circles on the teeth or claws. This is a unique feature that is not characteristic of any other animal species.
Natural enemies of the Caspian seals
Researchers claim that these animals have practically no enemies. The only exception is man, whose activities lead to a sharp reduction in the number of animals. However, in reality, seals, and especially newborn individuals, often become the prey of stronger and larger predators.
Natural enemies of the Caspian seal:
- Brown bear;
- Greenland sharks;
- White-tailed eagle.
In rare cases, in the absence of a food base, walruses can hunt young and small individuals. Especially vulnerable are females during the birth of offspring, as well as cubs whose mother went in search of food and left her babies alone in the den without supervision.
Man causes great harm to animals. Its activities, in connection with which the population of the species is sharply reduced, are associated not only with hunting and poaching, but also with the pollution of the natural habitat of predatory mammals. This is the main reason why the life expectancy of animals in natural conditions and their numbers are sharply reduced.
Population and species status
Today, the Caspian seal is an endangered species of mammals. This is due to the fact that human economic activity is constantly growing, which leads to the destruction, pollution and destruction of the natural habitat of the Caspian seal. Despite the fact that zoologists are trying to develop and take all necessary measures to preserve the species and increase the population, there are fewer animals every year.
Previously, populations of Caspian seals were very numerous and exceeded one million individuals. The downward trend in their numbers began in the 70s. After only 5-7 years, it was reduced by almost half and did not exceed 600,000 individuals. The fur of this particular type of seal is especially highly valued.
The animal was listed in the International Red Book with the status of “threatened with extinction.” Currently, hunting for this species of animals is not prohibited at the legislative level, but is only limited. The law allows killing no more than 50,000 individuals per year. However, even this figure can be threatening in this situation.
However, hunting and poaching are far from the only reasons for the extinction of the species. Mass animal diseases, destruction and pollution of natural habitats, as well as the birth of offspring once every two or three years, cause serious concern.
Protection of the Caspian seals
In Russia, at the moment, at the legislative level, the issue of suppressing, reducing human influence on the decline in the population of this species is being resolved. A decision was put forward to include the Caspian seal in the Red Book of the Russian Federation and a strict ban on hunting. To date, attempts are being made to minimize the pollution of the waters of the Caspian Sea by waste from the oil and gas processing industries.
What actions are being taken to protect the species from human impact:
- Creation of protected habitats for Caspian seals;
- Analysis of pollution of the Caspian Sea waters and reduction of harmful factors contributing to this;
- Prevention and non-admission of trapping of animals and cubs for all kinds of research until the population is restored;
- Creation of specialized nurseries, national parks, where zoologists, scientists and researchers will create favorable conditions for increasing the population of the species;
- Development and implementation of international projects for the protection of this species of predatory mammals.
The Caspian seal is an amazing and very beautiful animal. However, soon it may completely disappear from the face of the earth. As a result of neglect of natural resources and wildlife, a person can destroy another unique representative of flora and fauna. Therefore, it is very important to make every effort to preserve and restore its numbers.