- 12-06-00 Bodies of seals are washing ashore like driftwood
as a mysterious ailment continued to kill off thousands of the animals
in the Caspian Sea, environmental officials said. Seals living in the landlocked,
slightly salty sea began dying in large numbers over the last two months
for reasons that are not yet clear to biologists. Most suspect pollution
from oil drilling or a virus.
- The bodies began washing ashore in April, and were first
noticed when fishermen found 50 dead seal pups on a beach on an island
near the sea's north shore. Since then, about 20,000 seals have died,
according to Akhmed Mungiyev, Director of the Centre of State Ecological
Control in Makhachkala, a Russian port on the Caspian Sea. The total population
of the furry, grey-and-white animal is about 400,000, he said.
- As the deaths continued, fishermen in Kazakhstan collected
the bodies in dump trucks and burned them to prevent a threat to human
health in the area, Russian television reports showed. On Russia's side
of the sea,aerial photographs showed bodies tangled into several "floating
islands" of corpses, with about 100 dead seals per group, said Mungiyev.
- Tissue samples show high levels of sulphur in the animals,
suggesting a link to a chemical spill of hydrogen sulphide from a natural
gas platform in the sea earlier this year, he said. The accident occurred
during a storm, he said. Another factor could be undersea explosions geologists
use to make a seismic map of the sea's oil and gas deposits. The shock
waves may disorient the seals, he said.
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