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Thousands of Dead Seals Mysteriously Wash Ashore in Russia

Scientists are alarmed by the recent deaths of some 2,500 endangered Caspian seals.

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A large gray Caspian seal hangs out on the ice.
A large gray Caspian seal hangs out on the ice.
Screenshot: Caspian Seal Research and Rehabilitation Center

Around 2,500 of endangered seals in the Caspian Sea have washed ashore along the coast of Dagestan, Russia, CNN reports, citing the state-run news agency RIA Novosti.

Authorities in the region don’t know why so many Caspian seals have died in such a short period of time. Scientists are concerned, because Caspian seals are the only marine mammal that live in the Caspian Sea and aren’t found anywhere else in the world, the Washington Post reports.

Dagestan’s Ministry of Natural Resources believe the seals died from natural causes about two weeks ago, according to CNN. The ministry said it could not find proof of violence or that the seals were caught in fishing nets before they died.

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Kazakhstan, one of the five countries that surrounds the Caspian Sea, has also reported three alarming seal die-offs this year, Reuters reported. According to state news, inspectors have continued to search the shoreline to see if more seal bodies wash up. Experts are also analyzing the bodies that they’ve recovered in hopes of learning more about the cause of death.

Caspian seals have been listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature since 2008. Their population declined by about 70% in the 20th century due to excessive fur and blubber hunting, according to the IUCN. Today, the Caspian seals face challenges like environmental degradation, habitat loss, and entanglements with fishing gear.

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It’s unclear just how many seals there are in the landlocked sea. According to the Caspian Seal Research and Rehabilitation Center’s website, there are about 70,000 seals in the region, but regional fisheries claim there are 270,000 to 300,000, Reuters reports.