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Kazakh Ecologists Investigate Caspian Seal Deaths

A dead seal and pup on the Caspian shore in the Mangystau region on May 3.
A dead seal and pup on the Caspian shore in the Mangystau region on May 3.
MANGYSTAU, Kazakhstan -- Some 12-15 dead seals have washed up over the past week on the western Kazakh shore of the Caspian Sea, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

Erik Utebaliev, a local resident, told RFE/RL he found 10-12 dead Caspian seals of all ages, from full-grown adults to pups, on May 3 and three more on May 8.

Kirill Osin, director of the nongovernmental organization EKO Mangistau, told RFE/RL he and his colleagues planned to inspect the seals on May 10 and take tissue samples for analysis to try to determine whether they were poisoned.

He said he had only seen photos of the dead animals and it was too early to speculate about the cause of death.

Osin recalled that the local authorities attributed a mass death of seals in the region two years ago to a virus and inclement weather.

He rejected that conclusion, noting that dead seals are found only in the vicinity of intensive exploitation of offshore oil deposits.

Officials from Mangystau Oblast Governor Krymbek Kusherbaev's office told RFE/RL that he was attending the traditional Victory Day parade and was unavailable for comment.

Seal Population Decimated

The first mass deaths of seals in Mangystau took place in 2000. Over 330 seals died in 2006, reportedly from a virus, then almost 1,000 in 2007 and over 350 in 2009.

In March 2010, Kazakh Deputy Environment Protection Minister Eldana Sadbakasova told journalists that the seal population numbered some 8,000 but was rapidly falling due to intensive fishing that deprived the seals of their main source of food.

The Caspian seal population is currently estimated to be around 100,000 -- less than 10 percent of what it was a century ago.

The Caspian seal, which is spotted, is the Caspian's lone mammal species, and is not found anywhere else in the world.

Among the smallest of the "true seals," most Caspian seals inhabit the southern Caspian Sea area from May to September. In the fall, they migrate northward to breed and bear pups.

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