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17th September, 2012

Monk seal death in Ithaca: another forgotten statistic?

On 27 August, we published news on our Facebook page of an apparent monk seal killing on the islet of Atokos near Ithaca. The incident had been reported to us by Mattia Bernasconi of Ithaca-based Kioni.net, who discovered the young seal floating dead in the water, its stomach and abdomen bearing a large, deep gash.

Although we understand that Kioni reported the incident to the Ithaca Port Police, no official alert was received by MOm (Hellenic Society for the Study & Protection of the Monk Seal), the NGO that administers the monk seal rescue and stranding network in Greece (RINT). Port Police offices form important constituent parts of the RINT, being encouraged to report as a matter of urgency any monk seal deaths or strandings.

The Monachus Guardian alerted MOm of the monk seal death on Atokos by email on 27 August, but received no reply until a followup message on 12 September.

We were informed that the organisation had been in touch with Kioni as soon as news of the apparent killing appeared on the Internet. With the Port Police’s lapse in reporting the incident, however, and the body subsequently drifting away or washing up unremarked elsewhere, any chance of a necropsy had been lost.

Examining the photos, MOm expressed the view that the injury might have been inflicted while the animal was still trapped in fishing nets (dead or alive), with the intention of sinking the carcass (and thus potentially incriminating evidence). The absence of the body preventing any firm conclusion on the cause of death, however, no further investigation was conducted nor information released to the press.

The official, NGO and press reaction to the killing comes in stark contrast to similar incidents in Hawaii, which have generated headlines nationally, intensive investigation, outreach programmes to local fishing communities and legislative change.

We have to wonder when Greece and the European Union might wake up to similar action.

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