Authorities in the Russian province of Dagestan, on the west coast of the Caspian sea, reported that 2,500 Caspian seals (Phoca capsica) have been found dead on 4th December 2022. The cause of the deaths is not known but it could be a natural phenomenon.
Zaur Gapizov, head of the Caspian Environmental Protection Centre, said in a statement that the seals likely died a couple of weeks before and that there was no sign that they were killed or caught in fishing nets. Inspectors of the Federal Fisheries Agency did not find any pollutants in their preliminary analysis of samples obtained in the first inspection. This year Kazakhstan reported at least three similar incidents on its Caspian coastline, where at least 140 seals were found dead.
According to the fisheries agency, the overall number of Caspian seals is 270,000-300,000, but the Caspian Environmental Protection Centre put the number at 70,000. Caspian seals, the only autochthonous mammals in the Caspian sea, are classified as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list since 2008. Their major threats are overhunting, habitat degradation, and climate change. They do not have any natural predators as other seals in other parts of the world have, as there are no orcas or polar bears in the Caspian Sea. They have, though, unnatural predators in the form of humans who hunt them, so the number of Caspian seals has decreased by more than 90% over the past 100 years. Whilst Kazakhstan has ended hunting quotas in recent years, in Russia seals are still hunted on an industrial scale. In 2017, the Russian hunting quota was 6,000. In the same year, the fishing allowance for the whole Caspian Sea was 12,000. Also, many seal pups are illegally hunted for their fur.