The endemic species has for decades suffered from overhunting and industrial pollution in its habitat, with their numbers now estimated at less than 70,000, compared with more than 1 million in the early 20th century.

Officials in Kazakhstan’s western Manghystau region say 64 endangered seals and five huge sturgeon washed up dead on the shores of the Caspian Sea over the weekend, Radio Liberty reports.

The Manghystau regional fishery inspection agency said on May 16 that all of the animals found near the port of Fort Shevchenko had been taken for tests to determine the cause of their deaths.

Less than three weeks ago, authorities said the bodies of 94 dead seals were found in the same area. They said at the time that the animals were too decomposed to perform any forensic investigations on them.

On May 4, Ecology Minister Serikqali Birekeshev rejected allegations that the mass deaths of the endangered seals might have been caused by operations of the North Caspian Operating Company, which drills oil wells in the Caspian Sea bed.

The Caspian seal is the only mammal living in the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest inland body of water.

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