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Authorities baffled as 2,500 dead seals found on Russia’s Caspian coast

Russian officials say they believe mass mortality was due to natural causes, no indications animals were killed or became entangled in nets

Image from footage as journalists and Interdistrict Environmental Prosecutor's Office employees walk near the bodies of dead seals on shore of the Caspian Sea, Dagestan, December 4, 2022. (RU-RTR Russian Television via AP)
Image from footage as journalists and Interdistrict Environmental Prosecutor's Office employees walk near the bodies of dead seals on shore of the Caspian Sea, Dagestan, December 4, 2022. (RU-RTR Russian Television via AP)

MOSCOW — About 2,500 seals have been found dead on the Caspian Sea coast in southern Russia, officials said Sunday.

Authorities in the Russian province of Dagestan said it was unclear why the mass die-off happened but that it was likely due to natural causes.

Regional officials initially reported Saturday that 700 dead seals were found on the coast, but the Dagestan division of the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment later raised the figure to about 2,500.

Zaur Gapizov, head of the Caspian Environmental Protection Center, said in a statement that the seals likely died a couple of weeks ago. He added that there was no sign that they were killed or caught in fishing nets.

Experts of the Federal Fisheries Agency and prosecutors inspected the coastline and collected data for laboratory research, which didn’t immediately spot any pollutants.

Several previous incidents of mass seal deaths were attributed to natural causes. Kazakhstan, which has a long Caspian coastline, reported at least three such incidents this year.

In this image taken from footage provided by the RU-RTR Russian television on December 4, 2022, bodies of dead seals are seen on shore of the Caspian Sea, Dagestan. (RU-RTR Russian Television via AP)

Data about the number of seals in the Caspian vary widely. The fisheries agency has said the overall number of Caspian seals is 270,000-300,000, while the Caspian Environmental Protection Center put the number at 70,000.

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