Mediterranean monk seal, Monachus monachus,
re-sighted along the Israeli coastline
after more than half a century
Aviad Scheinin, Oz Goffman, Mia Elasar and Dani Kerem
During the last 4 months, the IMMRAC team has received more than 40 reports, some of them with supporting video or photographs, of seal sightings in many locations along the entire Israeli coastline, from Ashqelon in the South, near the border to the Gaza Strip, to Rosh-HaNikra in the North, at the border with Lebanon. The first photographed report that allowed positive identification as a Mediterranean monk seal, Monachus monachus, was obtained on 7 January 2010. We consulted monk seal researchers from Turkey, Greece and the Netherlands on the photos and the consensus was that it is a relatively young female. The female has been seen swimming inside the Herzliya Marina, and was photographed sleeping in a small alcove on the sea side of its breakwater, until disturbed. Other images that we have obtained since this sighting were not clear enough to ascertain whether all sightings are of the same individual. However, the locations and the timings of some of the sightings suggest at least 2 animals.
Previously, the last authenticated reports of monk seals along the Israeli coastline were in 1953, of a single animal in a cave near the Lebanese border, and in 1958, of another single animal in the Dor/Tantura lagoon, located in the central part of the coast.
In the event that the most recent sightings represent re-colonization attempts, a shift in habitat may be indicated, with the closest known colony in the north (the Mediterranean coast of Turkey) acting as a nursery, as suggested by Ali Cemal Gucu from the Middle East Technical University Institute of Marine Sciences, Mersin, Turkey.
The latest reported sighting of a seal was made on the 14/03/2010 near Ashdod Port. We hope to report on further sightings in the next edition.