13 Nov 2017 12:41

Human causes of seals' death in Baikal ruled out; there is infectious disease - prosecutors

IRKUTSK. Nov 13 (Interfax) - An anthropogenic cause of the mass deaths of ringed seals in Lake Baikal in late October has been fully ruled out, Western Baikal nature-protection prosecutor Alexei Kalinin told Interfax.

"Studies done on the dead animals did not show any signs indicating a negative anthropogenic impact. All inspections of the Baikal Pulp and Paper Plant and the cleansing systems [for leaks] turned out negative. All water samples [taken in Lake Baikal] showed no pollution. There is no poisoning, there is an infectious disease," Kalinin said.

The final answer to the question of which infection killed the seals can be given after molecular and genetic tests are performed in the Limnological Institute of the Siberian Department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Kalinin said.

An informed source told Interfax that the animals might have had a gastro-intestinal infection.

Andrei Fedotov, director of the Limnological Institute, told Interfax that live ringed seals will be taken to the institute for molecular and genetic tests.

"No infection has been found yet, but that doesn't mean anything. We studied dead organisms, in which viruses are not preserved well. A live organism is needed to get 100% convincing results," Fedotov said.

The Angara-Baikal Territorial Directorate of the Federal Fisheries Agency (Rosrybolovstvo) told Interfax that is planned to catch 2-3 ringed seals under a research quota and take them to Irkutsk.

Fedotov said that 18 bodies of ringed seals were found on a one-kilometer stretch of coastline near the settlement of Mishikha in the Kabansky district of Buryatia in late October.

According to earlier reports, the bodies of 141 dead ringed seals were found on the Baikal coast in the period between October 26 and November 2. All of them were well-fed adult animals, and 80% were pregnant females.

According to nature-protection prosecutors, the animals did not beach themselves but died in the water, and their bodies then washed ashore. They died at different times over a period of two days. None of the seals had food in their gastro-intestinal tracts.

According to preliminary information possessed by Rosselkhoznadzor, the seals died of cardiac arrest whose cause remains unknown. No dangerous diseases such as canine distemper virus and rabies were found in the dead animals.