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Pinnipednesday - Pusa caspica Edition

And the adorable seal cuteness continues with the Caspian Seal!

The Caspian Seal (Pusa caspica) is the smallest species of earless seal, and can only be found in the Caspian Sea and the mouths of connecting rivers like the Ural and Volga. Like the Baikal Seal, the Caspian Seal is isolated inland, and no one knows for certain how it got there. It likely shares a common ancestor with the Ringed Seal, a small population of which may have ended up in what is now the Caspian Sea when the continental ice sheets melted.


Adult males are slightly larger than adult females, reaching body lengths of up to 4.9 feet (1.5 meters), and weighing 190 pounds (86 kg). Females will reach lengths of 4.5 feet (1.4 meters). Their coats are usually gray, with randomly-placed spots on the back, but pups are born with white coats, which falls out and is replaced with dark gray coats at around three weeks of age.


Though Caspian Seals live exclusively in the Caspian Sea, where they live in the sea depends upon ice formations and the availability of food. They will move from the north, to the middle, to the south depending on how extensive the ice formations are. They use the ice to give birth and haul out. They feed primarily on fish and crustaceans, both those that can be found in the sea itself, and on what can be found a little upriver in the Volga and the Ural. Caspian Seals are themselves hunted by sea eagles when they are young, small and vulnerable, by wolves, and by humans for food and fur trade.


The breeding season for Caspian Seals occurs at the beginning of spring, in late February and early March. This occurs after the pups from the previous year's season have been born. The actual gestation period of a female Caspian Seal's pregnancy is about 11 months, but like other pinnipeds their bodies delay implantation for one to two months. The pups do not actually enter the water until their woolly white coats have shed, and their short gray coats have grown in. This newborn coat is called the lanugo coat.


Pesticides and pollution have had an impact on the Caspian Seal's ability to reproduce, since the Caspian Sea is a relatively closed ecosystem. And they not only face the threat of over-hunting and poaching, but they suffer from over-fishing as well, since it deprives them of the amount of food needed to sustain a healthy population. There are a few initiatives and groups that are dedicated to doing what they can to protect the Caspian Seal and its unique ecosystem, but at current levels of annual mortality and birthrate, it faces a grim future.

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