SOURCE: France24

DATE: April 16, 2019

SNIP: Seals waddling along the waterfront were once a common sight in Baku Bay, the Caspian Sea home of Azerbaijan’s capital.

Not anymore. Of the more than one million seals which inhabited the shores and islands of the Caspian a century ago fewer than 10 percent remain, and the species has been declared endangered.

Azer Garayev, the head of the Azerbaijan Society for the Protection of Animals, says the seals have for decades been suffering from over-hunting and the effects of industrial pollution.

In 2003, his group found 750 seal carcasses in just one month.

“It was not normal,” but no one looked into the issue, the 57-year-old activist said. “The seal is a sign of all the major environmental problems (in the Caspian).”

Bordered by Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan, the Caspian is the world’s largest inland body of water, about the size of Japan.

As well as the seals and other endemic species including Caspian turtles and the famed beluga sturgeon, the sea boasts vast energy reserves, estimated at 50 billion barrels of oil and 300,000 billion cubic metres of natural gas.

Pollution from the extraction of that oil and gas, along with declining water levels due to climate change, pose a threat to many species and put the future of the sea itself at risk.

[For more on the devastating pollution in the Caspian Sea, see Caspian Sea Pollution.]