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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 - Head - Azerbaijan - Society
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.
One - Issue - Activist - Seal - Sign
"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.
Seals - Species - Turtles - Beluga - Sturgeon
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.
UN - Environment - Programme - Suffers - Burden
The UN Environment Programme has warned that the Caspian "suffers from an enormous burden of pollution from oil extraction and refining, offshore oil fields, radioactive wastes from nuclear power plants and huge volumes of untreated sewage and industrial waste introduced mainly by the Volga River".
A few kilometres (miles) from downtown Baku, fishermen along the seashore watch small drops of oil appearing on the surface of the sea and spreading in varicoloured strains.
Water - Rashad
"Some fish seem to prefer polluted water, so they tend to congregate here," said 26-year-old Rashad.
"The water is dirty,"...
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