The Caspian Seal has been listed as an endangered species in the Red Book of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 2009. Since the start of the 20th Century, the population has declined by more than 90%. A census conducted in Iran in 2016 showed that there were less than 70,000 seals left. It is estimated that the population is currently declining by 3-4% per year. There are four main reasons for continued decline in the seal population:
  • Pollution
  • Disease
  • Hunting (legal and illegal)
  • Seals becoming entangled in fishing nets



The same research found a strain of canine distemper virus (CDV) in the brains of seals. CDV mainly affects dogs and some marine mammals, and can be fatal. In 2000, CDV is believed to have caused tens of thousands of Caspian Seal deaths throughout the region.


Although Caspian Seals are an endangered species, they are still legally and illegally hunted for their fur and oil, causing further decline in the already dwindling numbers of these rare and beautiful creatures.

Whilst Kazakhstan has ended hunting quotas in recent years, in Russia seals are still hunted on an industrial scale. In 2017, the Russian hunting quota was 6,000. In the same year, the fishing allowance for the whole Caspian Sea was 12,000.

Many of the seals that are illegally hunted are pups – prized for their soft fur. Seal skins are used for hats and other clothing and an individual high-quality seal skin can sell for up to US$100 at the point of origin. Seal blubber is also used as a medicinal tonic, fishing bait, and cattle feed, and seal oil can sell for US$14 per litre (according to the IUCN).

Fishing Nets

It is estimated that fishing nets are responsible for between 5% and 19% of all seal deaths each year. In 2013, BP, the oil giant, identified fishing nets as the most critical threat to the future of the seals in the Caspian.

Fishing nets are used to catch sturgeon, but seals can get tangled and whilst trying to escape are often strangled.

Solutions to prevent mammals getting caught in fishing nets have proved effective elsewhere in the world, such as using a circle hook and auditory deterrents to keep mammals away from areas that are being fished. In the future, the Center will be exploring options to improve fishing practices in the Caspian.