About 2,500 Caspian seals, classified as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list, have been found dead on Russia’s Caspian Sea coast, officials announced Sunday.
Authorities initially reported 700 dead seals, but eventually increased the amount to almost 2,500. Although the exact cause of death is currently unknown, natural causes are most likely to blame. Zaur Gapizov, head of the Caspian Environmental Protection Center, said the animals had died of “natural factors” and that based on their appearance, they likely died a couple of weeks ago and there were “no signs of violent death, no remains of fishing nets.”
Prosecutors and Federal Fisheries Agency experts examined the coastline and gathered information for laboratory analysis, but no pollutants were immediately identified. To determine the cause of death, officials are currently awaiting the results of lab tests.
Similar incidents of mass seal deaths on the Caspian Coast have happened in the past, just this year Kazakhstan reported three. According to sea life experts, the seal population is suffering from climate change, industrial pollution and over-hunting.
CNN reports that following this incident, the Dagestan ministry said the overall number of Caspian seals in the area remains stable, “ranging from 270,000 to 300,000.” Meanwhile, The Caspian Environmental Protection Center says the number is much lower, estimating only about 70,000. A century ago, their population was estimated at 1.5 million.
The Caspian seals exist nowhere else in the world and are the only marine mammal in the Caspian Sea, which is located in Central Asia and is the largest landlocked waterbody in the world.