04/18/2007, 00.00
KAZAKHSTAN

Hundreds of seal pups wash up dead on Caspian Sea shore

More than 500 seal carcasses are found over the past weeks with no one doing or knowing anything about it. Environmental pollution is blamed for this mass death. Seals are affected at a particular delicate moment in their life cycle, namely breeding.

Almaty (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 500 dead seals, most of them pups, have been found washed up over the past three weeks on the Caspian Sea coast of western Kazakhstan’s Mangystau region, the Kazakh Emergencies Ministry announced today. No cause has yet been determined.

“About 50 of them are grown-up seals but the rest are pups,” a Ministry spokesman said. “It's too early to say what caused their deaths. A special commission is working there to establish the cause.”

Some news agencies are reporting that the seals might have died of plague infection. Other sources blame the deaths on the sea’s deteriorating environment. In 2000 more than 10,000 seals died because of chronic intoxication.

The number of Caspian seal (Phoca Caspica) has been dwindling for quite a while. They were believed to total more than 400,000 in the 1980s, but pollution and fishing by-catch are believed to have driven the number to around 100,000.

Seals are very sensitive at this time of the year which is the end of the breeding period.

Mels Eleusizov, head of Kazakhstan's environmentalist Tabigat (Nature) party, believes that the oil industry is responsible for the crisis.

Kazakhstan's section of the Caspian Sea is home to a number of big oil and gas deposits including Kashagan, the world's largest oil discovery in the last 30 years.

Experts note that the oil fields are loaded with pollutants, most of them a legacy of the Soviet era. They accumulate in seals, weakening their immune systems and causing infertility.

Elsewhere on Azerbaijan’s coastline, no seals washed up dead, Azerbaijan's Ecology Ministry confirmed. (PB)

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