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  • 6/8/2011

Caspian Seal

part 1


Phoca caspica, the only mammal in the Caspian Sea. It is a relict species, endemic to the Caspian Sea and the deltas of rivers that discharge into it—the region where its ancestors lived when the sea was still connected to the oceans.

Caspian seal is a medium-size animal with a total length between 140 and 175 cm and a weight of 50 to 95 kg; the males are larger than the females. The coloration depends upon age and varies among individuals. It is usually olive-grey with dark spots, merging into a lighter grey with a touch of yellow on the flanks, and white underneath. The newborn pups are white, tuning dark-grey by the age of two years. With age, the background color becomes progressively lighter and the spots more abundant.

Caspian seals follow a regular annual migration, usually spending the summer in the deeper and cooler southern parts of the sea and migrating to the shallow waters of the northeastern Caspian in the autumn. In early winter, when the waters freeze, female seals give birth in cavities which they excavate on the edge of the pack ice. A female produces one or two pups in February after about eleven months of gestation. The pups are covered with soft white fur in the first two weeks after birth and grow very rapidly. When sensing danger, the mother clasps the pup and seeks safety in the waters of the sea. This is the time when the female seals and their pups are particularly vulnerable to predation, the wolf being their most dangerous predator. White-tailed eagles and other raptors have been observed feeding on the seal’s placental remains, and presumably they can attack the pups as well. The females abandon their pups in a month after parturition, when the period of mating begins. Shortly thereafter, the molt (changing of the fur) takes place. In March, adult seals begin their migration southward, and the pups, by then capable of swimming, form herds and also move to the southern parts of the sea. Owing to this migration pattern, it would appear that most seals found in Iranian waters in the winter are juveniles.

Reports indicate that seals are capable of remaining submerged for about fifteen to twenty minutes. The hind limbs of the seal are positioned beside the tail and are of no use for movement on land, where even the forelimbs are rarely used. Hence, while seals move with speed, grace, and agility in the water, on land they jerk and lurch along in a cumbersome manner, appearing to make out slightly better on ice and snow. They will occasionally rest on remote beaches, basking in the sun.

Other Links:

Geography and Nature of Iran

Geography and History, Zanjan

Persian Eagles: Part 1

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