Thousands of dead Caspian seals have washed up on the shoreline of the Caspian Sea in Russia, the local environment ministry said.
The Ministry for Natural Resources in Russia’s Dagestan region said that at least 2,500 of the endangered animals had been found along the entire shoreline of the Caspian Sea and that the number is likely to rise.
Gadzhi Abdulabekov, a 45-year-old local businessman, said that he was shocked by the number of dead seals. “You could find one or two [dead seals] here before, but never this many… There should be an investigation,” he said.
The Caspian Sea is bordered by five countries: Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Turkmenistan. Caspian seals, which are among the world’s smallest, are found exclusively in the salty waters of the Caspian Sea.
They are vulnerable to being preyed on by other animals, but experts say that heavy metals and other pollutants in the Caspian Sea are now a bigger threat.
The Caspian Nature Preserve Centre said that the seals probably died about two weeks before being washed ashore and that no physical injuries had been found. Forensic examinations are being conducted to determine the cause of death.
A century ago, there were around 1.5 million Caspian seals, but now there are less than 70,000, according to the Caspian Environmental Protection Centre.
Pollution from the extraction of oil and gas in the area and declining water levels due to climate change threaten many animals and put the future of the sea itself at risk.
Caspian seals are unique among seal species because they are the only seals living in an entirely landlocked body of water. This means they do not have access to the ocean and spend their entire lives in the Caspian Sea.
They are semi-aquatic animals, which means that they spend part of their time on land and part of their time in the water. They are excellent swimmers and can stay underwater for up to 20 minutes at a time.