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'Never seen this many': rare seals wash up dead on Russian shore

STORY: The local Ministry for Natural Resources said on Sunday (December 3) that the bodies of at least 2,500 endangered Caspian seals had washed ashore in Russia's Dagestan region in recent days. The ministry also said that forensic examinations were being carried out to establish the cause of death.

According to a statement by the Caspian Nature Preserve Centre, the seals likely died about two weeks before being washed ashore and no external signs indicated a violent cause of death had been found.

The seal species is among the world's smallest and is found exclusively in the brackish waters of the Caspian Sea. Caspian seals are vulnerable to being preyed on by other animals, such as wolves, but experts say heavy metals in the Caspian Sea and other pollutants are now a much bigger issue.

A century ago, there were an estimated 1.5 million Caspian seals. That number had fallen to 70,000 by 2022, according to the Caspian Environmental Protection Centre.