Russian authorities are investigating whether 141 Baikal earless seals starved to death after their carcasses washed up in Siberia on the shoreline of the world's deepest lake, officials said Friday. The dead seals started appearing along Lake Baikal last weekend, the Irkutsk region's government said in a statement. Most of the seals were pregnant females, reports the AP. The population of the Baikal earless seals, or nerpa, is estimated to be around 130,000. The lake near the Mongolian border, 2,600 miles east of Moscow, contains 20% of the world's non-frozen freshwater and is home to 1,500 species of plants and animals that exist nowhere else in the world; it's more than 5,500 feet deep.
Alexei Kalinin, environment prosecutor for the West Baikal, told the Interfax news agency earlier this week that one of the likeliest causes of the deaths could be the scarcity of food because of the growing nerpa population. "The dead animals were all hungry. There was no food in their stomachs," Kalinin said. Authorities have ruled out a disease outbreak and say lab samples haven't shown what could have killed the animals.The population of the nerpas, Baikal's only mammal, shot up after hunting them was outlawed in 2009. A number of scientists and local leaders, however, have called for allowing limited hunting to control the growing population. (Scientists say the lake is in trouble.)