Scientists from the University of Leeds together with international partners have documented the disastrous decline of the seal - a species found only in the land-locked waters of the Caspian Sea - in a series of surveys which reveal a 90 per cent drop in numbers in the last 100 years.
The research findings have prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to move the Caspian seal from the Vulnerable category to Endangered on its official IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, announced today in Barcelona 06 October 2008.
Dr Simon Goodman of Leeds' Faculty of Biological Sciences says: "Each female has just one pup a year, so with numbers at such a low levels, every fertile female that dies is a nail in the coffin of the species. We're hoping that the seal's change in Red List status will help raise awareness about their plight, and the many important conservation issues facing the whole Caspian ecosystem."
Commercial hunting, habitat degradation, disease, pollution and drowning in fishing nets have caused the population of the seal collapse from more than 1 million at the start of the 20th century to around 100,000 today.
Results from surveys conducted in 2005 and 2006, published recently in the scientific journal Ambio, show that in 2006 there were only 17,000 breeding females, barely enough to keep the population viable, given the low survival rate of pups.
Moreover, new results from surveys conducted by the team in 2007 and 2008, show that since 2005 the number of pups being born has plummeted by a catastrophic further 60 per cent to just 6,000-7,000, and the number of adults seen on the breeding grounds of the winter ice-field is down by a third on 2005.
With commercial hunters from Dagestan in the Russian Federation killing more than 8,000 pups in recent years, the team is urging the governments of the Caspian countries to instate a ban on hunting as the first step in avoiding further declines. "Without a suite of conservation measures there is a very high risk the species will become extinct, and possibly within our lifetime," says Dr Goodman.
The team is using its latest figures and ongoing research to develop a conservation action plan, which will prioritise a ban on hunting the seal and establish protected areas with the countries bordering the Caspian Sea. The basic plan has been completed, but the main recommendations are yet to be fully implemented by the countries of the region.
Dr Susan Wilson, a consultant in seal conservation biology and one of the authors of the Ambio paper says: "Although there are no easy fixes to the problems facing Caspian seals, we hope to get some concrete measures in place over the next year, particularly in Kazakhstan where the government has been quick to recognise the need for urgent action."
Dr Goodman's team is also working on a project - funded by Defra through the Darwin Initiative - to enhance the ability of local scientists to monitor and manage the seal population themselves.
Ralf Richter, David Brockwell, Eric Hewitt, Jessica Kwok, Emanuele Paci and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £600,000
Eric Blair, Adrian Whitehouse, Nicola Stonehouse, Alison Baker, Richard Bayliss, Joan Boyes, Ryan Seipke, Sally Boxall and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £376,000
Stefan Kepinski, Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, Tom Bennett, Michelle Peckham, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £331,000
Roman Tuma, Lars Jeuken, Paul Millner, Sheena Radford, Peter Stockley and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £222,000
Vas Ponnambalam, Darren Tomlinson, Stephen Wheatcroft, BHF (May 2017), £107,878
Graham Askew in collaboration with Bangor University, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £477,383
Stephen Muench, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £132,945
Nic Stonehouse, MRC (Mar 2017), £906,341
Bill Kunin, Steve Sait, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £602,831
Adrian Goldman, EU (Mar 2017), £546,576
Sheena Radford, Wellcome Trust (Mar 2017), £1,836,482
Tom Bennett, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Jamie Johnston, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Beatrice Filippi, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £52,116
Mary O'Connell, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £46,986
Hannah Dugdale, NERC (Feb 2017), £504,138
Anastasia Zhuravleva, EPSRC (Jan 2017), £100,792
Richard Bayliss, Cancer Research UK (Jan 2017), £1,600,000
John Barr, EU (Jan 2017), £339,000
Mark Harris, Royal Society (Jan 2017), £250,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Jan 2017), £105,000
Alex Breeze, Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (Jan 2017), £180,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2016), £18,000
Lisa Collins, BBSRC (Dec 2016), £1,681,835
Brendan Davies, Leverhulme Trust (Dec 2016), £247,555
Alan Benson, Mark Drinkhill, Ed White, British Heart Foundaion (Dec 2016), £217,223
Adrian Goldman, Royal Society (Dec 2016), £82,999
Lisa Roberts, Alex Breeze, Brendan Davies, Timothy Devinney, Oliver Harlen, Joseph Holden, Anthea Hucklesby, Pamela Jones, Philip Mellor, RCUK (Nov 2016), £484,172
Lisa Roberts, Alex Breeze, Brendan Davies, Timothy Devinney, Oliver Harlen, Joseph Holden, Anthea Hucklesby, Pamela Jones, Philip Mellor, Wellcome Trust (Nov 2016), £119,343
Katie Field, Rank Prize Funds (Nov 2016), £20,000
Jessica Kwok, Royal Society (Nov 2016), £14,948
John Ladbury, Cancer Research UK (Oct 2016), £4,250
Miriam Wittmann, Martin Stacey, Edward Vital, Lupus UK
(Oct 2016), £34,010
Valerie Speirs, NC3Rs
(Oct 2016), £90,000
Nicola Stonehouse, Morgan Herod, David Rowlands, BBSRC
(Sep 2016), £436,424
Joseph Cockburn, Wellcome Trust
(Sep 2016), £100,000
John Barr, Public Health England
(Sep 2016), £94,471
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products A/S
(Sep 2016), £54,680
Steven Clapcote, Vitaflo International Ltd
(Sep 2016), £39,285
Juan Fontana Jordan De Urries
, Royal Society
(Sep 2016), £21,793
Jing Li, Sarah Calaghan, Mark Drinkhill, British Heart Foundation
(Sep 2016), £117,585
Sheena Radford, Alison Ashcroft, BBSRC (Sep 2016), £457,216
Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle, An-Jung Chen, David Westhead, NC3Rs
(Sep 2016), £354,456
Glyn Hemsworth, BBSRC (Sep 2016), £1,024,034
David Jayne, Paul Millner, MRC (Aug 2016), £207,860
Sheena Radford, Alison Ashcroft, BBSRC (Aug 2016), £457,215
Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle, Dave Westhead, An-Jung Chen, NC3Rs (Aug 2016), £354,456
Peter Henderson, EU - European Union
EU - European Union
(Jul 2016), £123,897
Adrian Goldman, EU - European Union
(Jul 2016), £116,290
Urwin, Howard Atkinson, NERC
(Jul 2016), £105,053
Eileen Ingham and colleagues in Engineering and M&H, EPSRC (Jul 2016), £3,867,449
Michael Colman, MRC (Jul 2016), £200,956
Tim Benton, Fresca Group Ltd
(Jul 2016), £52,082