Phoca caspica

(Gmelin, 1788) - Caspian seal

Distinctive Characteristics

The Caspian seal, like the Baikal seal, is essentially a population of the ringed seal that has evolved in isolation. The chief differences between Caspian seals and ringed seals are in pelage colour and markings.

Caspian seals are greyish yellow to dark grey above, grading to a paler shade below. There are numerous brown to black spots on the back in both sexes. However, these spots are darker and more abundant on the male. There are often no rings; when they do occur, they are much sparser than on ringed seals. The pup's whitish lanugo is moulted at about 3 weeks for a short dark pelage.

The dental formula is I 3/2, C 1/1, PC 6/5.

Can be confused with

No other pinniped occurs in the Caspian Sea region, and this species occurs nowhere else in the world.


Adult males and females reach maximum lengths of 1.5 and 1.4 m, respectively, and weigh around 86 kg. Pups are 64 to 79 cm and about 5 kg at birth.

Geographical Distribution

Caspian seals are entirely confined to the saline waters of the Caspian Sea and its feeder rivers, which are bordered by several of the states of the new Russian Commonwealth and Iran. Seasonal movements in the Caspian Sea are prompted by ice formation. Seals occupy the northeastern quadrant in autumn, but in spring and summer they move south into the deeper and cooler regions of the Caspian Sea.

Biology and Behaviour

The pupping season lasts from late January to early February. Unlike the ringed seal or Baikal seal, Caspian seal pups are born out on the open ice. Mating occurs from late February to mid-March. There is little information on behaviour of this little-known seal.

Caspian seals take a variety of fishes and small crustaceans; the diet varies seasonally.


Caspian seals have undoubtedly been hunted since prehistoric times. A large scale commercial harvest since the 19th Century continues to this day under government regulated quotas.

IUCN Status