Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (CCAS)

Comprehensive protection after years of hunting

Seals, alongside whales, are the only mammals found in Antarctica. Several species of seal live on and around the continent. Most belong to the group of the earless seals. These include the Weddell seal, the Crabeater seal, the Leopard seal, the Ross seal and the Southern Elephant seal. There is also the Antarctic Fur seal, a member of the Eared seal family. From the end of the eighteenth century onwards, this species in particular fell victim to seal hunters, as its skin could be sold for large sums in Asia, Europe and North America. Most of the productive hunting grounds were exhausted by around 1900.

However, decades more would pass before there was a deep enough understanding of environmental protection and species conservation for the seals of Antarctica to be placed under protection. On 1 June 1972, the Contracting Parties to the Antarctic Treaty approved the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (CCAS). It entered into force in 1978; seal populations were to be protected from commercial exploitation from then on. The Convention stipulates seal hunting zones and preventive hunting restrictions in these zones. It covers commercial hunting as well as the capturing and killing of seals for scientific purposes.

One of the first regulations of its kind

The CCAS was the result of long-running negotiations. There were discussions at the time concerning whether it would be possible to resume the commercial exploitation of seals. One key question was whether to allow hunting of the large populations of Crabeater seals that are found in the pack-ice zone of the Southern Ocean, and not directly on the Antarctic continent or the islands. To find a uniform solution that covered the high sea, the Parties involved in the consultations set about drafting an independent international convention whose scope extended to these populations. Thanks to the CCAS, there has never been another instance of commercial seal hunting in Antarctica. Overall, the CCAS is one of the first international efforts, if not the very first, to succeed in regulating the commercial exploitation of living resources before these activities begin. The United Kingdom is the Depositary of the Convention and reports on its status at every Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, as well as documenting every seal captured or killed, including when this is done for scientific purposes.