The existing regulation on disturbance of Mediterranean monk seals in caves along the Turkish coast was amended exactly as proposed by SAD-AFAG in January this year and published by the DG Fisheries & Aqua Products in the Official Gazette on 13 August 2016. The amended regulation reads as follows: “It is forbidden to use any light source inside, dive by any means into, enter by swimming or any other way into, wait or anchor in front of either underwater or surface entrances to caves used by Mediterranean monk seals”. The amended version of the related article was published in both, the Professional Aqua Product Fishery Circular No 2016/35 and the Recreational Aqua Products Fishery Circular No 2016/36.
Tourist boats in front of monk seal caves…
…a thing of the past?
Although the threats for monk seals along Turkish coasts greatly differ from region to region in the country, disturbance to monk seals in sea caves, their ultimate refuge along the remote coasts, is a real menace for the species. The problem is especially prominent in popular diving locations with cliff and rocky shores, such as in Çeşme, Kuşadası, Bodrum, Fethiye, Dalaman, Marmaris, Kaş, Kekova, Kemer, Antalya and Alanya, where monk seals still breed and are present permanently. Suitable sea caves are the only places within the species’ habitat for reproduction and resting, and therefore play a crucial role for the continued survival of this rare marine mammal.
Diving into monk seal caves, a thing of the past?
The previous version of the regulation, in force since 1991, simply read “it is forbidden to use any light source inside and diving by any means into caves where monk seals live”, which also has been proposed by SAD-AFAG, in the very first National Monk Seal Committee meeting in Ankara in January 1991. However, over time it has been realized that some of the tourism stakeholders, mainly daily excursions boats and some tourist diving companies, have been diluting the above mentioned article of the Aqua Products Circular and claim that letting their customers enter the monk seal caves by boats or by swimming, is not covered by the previous regulation and for this reason they have the freedom to enter sea caves as they please. Therefore, SAD-AFAG deemed it necessary to prepare an amendment submitted to the DG Fisheries & Aqua Products (under the Ministry of Food, Agriculture & Husbandry) in January 2016 with its official communiqué dated 5th January 2016 and No. SAD-16/03 given below, filling-in the “legal gaps” that were misused by some stakeholders.
In the same proposal to the new Aqua Products Circular, SAD also proposed in cooperation with other relevant NGOs such as the Recreational Underwater Hunters Society (İzmir), the Development of Artisanal Fishery Society (İstanbul) and the Recreational Line Fishery Society (Ankara), the prohibition of fishing of two demersal fish species; Dusky grouper Ephinephelus marginatus and White grouper Ephinephelus aeneus, whose stocks have been heavily depleted in Turkish seas. The DG Fishery and Aqua Products (BSÜ GM) has accepted the proposal and these two demersal fishes are included in the list of species completely banned for fishing in the next 4 years period from 2016 to 2020. It is believed that one of the best ways to suppress the increasing populations of Lessepsian species and invasive aquatic species along the Turkish coasts of the Levant Sea and the Aegean Sea is to help recover populations of originally resident species such as groupers, sea bass, sea bream and dentex. Supporting marine ecosystems in a holistic approach will surely have a positive impact on the conservation of endangered predator species such as monk seals, sea turtles and shark species.
by Aylin Akkaya Bas*, Nicola Piludu, João Lagoa and Elizabeth Atchoi,
Marine Mammals Research Association, Antalya, Turkey**
Mediterranean monk seals (Hermann, 1779) were once widely and continuously distributed in the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea and North Atlantic waters (Aguilar 1999). The species is considered to be one of the world’s most endangered pinnipeds, with the global population estimated to be around 500 individuals (Karamanlidis & Dendrinos 2015), only 50-100 of which are left in Turkey (Güçlüsoy et al. 2004; Öztürk et al. 1991). Antalya Bay is subjected to high marine traffic year-round, and especially during summer months, when tourism activities peak. We report the most recent sightings of Mediterranean monk seals in Antalya Bay and investigate the impact of boat traffic on the species. Considering that the population in the Turkish Mediterranean is estimated at around 40 individuals (Güçlüsoy et al., 2004), the recent sightings in Antalya are of vital importance for the knowledge of the overall Turkish population, and provide great insight for conservation plans and consequently for the species’ survival in the region.
Systematic surveys were carried out from 1st of March to 29th of December 2015 from two independent observation stations located on the coastal cliffs of Antalya, covering approximately 300 km2 of sea. The geographic position and activity of boats and seals were recorded using a FOIF theodolite paired with a laptop and later plotted via ArcGIS v.9. Group size, behaviour, diving interval, and proximity of boats to seals were recorded. Behavioural states were defined following Pires (2011) as travelling, predation, resting and socializing.
In total, surveys were conducted for 84 days (360 hours). Mediterranean monk seals were sighted on thirteen different days and were observed for a total of 4.42 hours. Two independent sightings were recorded in Olympos, Antalya on the 28th September 2015 and 9th June 2016 by a local diver (Table 1, Figure 1). September had the highest encounter rate with four sightings; seals were not sighted in March, October, November and December. 75% of the sightings took place during morning hours (between 06:00 – 10:00) with the latest sighting at 14:46. Sightings were close to the coast, with the furthest sighting occurring 400 m from the closest shore, and all in waters of depths of 50 m or less. Observation duration ranged from 5 seconds to 2.14 hours. Diving intervals were recorded in four of the sightings and the average dive time was 8.4 minutes (n=15, SD=6). All sightings were of single individuals, except on one occasion (28th August 2015), when two different mother/pup pairs were sighted simultaneously. Sighted individuals most often engaged in travelling and predation behaviour, each covering 46% of recorded behaviours. Resting behaviour was only recorded in 8% of the observation time.
Table 1. List of Mediterranean monk seal sightings in Antalya Bay, Turkey (Group n = Number of groups; Ind., n = Number of individuals).
Duration of Observation
Figure 1. Seal sightings during the surveys (numbers above the marks represent the observation order).
An average of 87 boats was present every day within the survey area (51% tour boats, 26% fishing boats and 20% speedboats). When the core zones for boats and seals were mapped there was considerable overlap (Figure 2). Additionally, boats were recorded within a 400 m radius from the focal seal in 31% of the observation time. Both possible active avoidance behaviour (i.e. leaving the area permanently) and possible habituation (i.e. resurfacing in similar area within a time interval), were recorded towards the speedboats. No signs of avoidance to nearby fishing boats were recorded.
The continued presence of adults throughout the study period, and the single observation of two pups simultaneously, suggest that a population of Mediterranean monk seals still survives in Antalya Bay. If appropriate conservation measures are taken, population growth can be achieved, especially given the proximity of the study site to the Olympos-Beydağları National Park, a critical site for the species (Gücü et al. 2009). However, in the current situation, the bay is still characterised by high human activity that might prevent the survival of a healthy colony. Given the observation of mother/pup pairs, and based on informal talks with locals who have a personal interest in marine life and claim to check often on specific caves in order to see seals with their pups, we conclude that despite heavy human presence there is at least one breeding cave in Lara Cliffs.
Figure 2. Seal sightings overlaid with the core zones of fishing, speed, and tour boats. Boat presence core zones were delimited at 50% contour, where boat density through time is higher.
Our study showed overlap between area usage by seals and boats. Seals were spotted predominantly during early morning hours, when most boats are still absent, which could be an indication of intentional avoidance of boats. Without further research, however, no definitive cause can be deduced. No direct avoidance was recorded towards fishing boats, again suggesting some degree of habituation. This is in accordance with the species’ opportunistic feeding behaviour (Johnson & Karamanlidis 2000). Fishermen have reported seals following their fishing boats for long periods of time and actively waiting in specific areas for fishermen to set their nets (Johnson & Karamanlidis 2000). These interactions with artisanal and industrial fisheries, however, are likely to be a source of stress, ultimately causing a direct threat to the population of Mediterranean monk seals. It is known that various methods (i.e. lights, chasing seals with boats, noise and warning shots with rifles) are used by fishermen to keep seals away from the nets (Danyer et al. 2013; Güçlüsoy & Savaş 2003). Direct persecution and deliberate killing have also been reported in Turkey (Danyer et al. 2013; Güçlüsoy et al. 2004; Öztürk 2007).
The conflict between human activities and seals should be addressed by an array of diverse actions that should combine research, education and enforcement. The establishment of protected areas has been proven effective to some degree (Pires et al. 2008). Fishermen and boat crews should be engaged in each conservation activity in order to attempt perception change and avoid the resulting possible local extinction of the species.
Our results demonstrate the pressing urgency to continue and update the research programme to investigate Antalya’s population. Obtaining robust data on species distribution, individual identification, and especially confirming the presence of seal caves and pupping areas are the first steps in developing conservation measures that will encourage the survival of Antalya’s population of Mediterranean monk seals. While local efforts to preserve a possible Antalya colony are critical, a nationwide initiative aimed at mapping the remaining colonies and creating a network of marine protected areas connected by corridors, alongside educational and awareness programs, remains the highest priority to ensure the survival of the species in Turkey.
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank all the volunteers, Alec Christie, Anissa Belhadjer, Ayça Eleman, Callum Duffield, Carine Gansen, Dawid Szubryt, Henry Appleton, Jesse Poot, Johanna Bergman, Nicole Tomsett, Petra Solarik, and Sarah Bellamy, who helped throughout the process of collecting data, and the Marine Mammals Research Association for financial support.
Aguilar, A. 1999. Status of Mediterranean monk seal populations. In RAC-SPA, United Nations Environment Program, pp. 1-60. Aloès Edition, Tunisia.
Danyer, E., Özbek, E.Ö., Aytemiz, I. & A.M. Tonay. 2013. Preliminary report of a stranding case of Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus (Hermann, 1779) on Antalya coast, Turkey, April 2013. Journal of the Black Sea/Mediterranean Environment, 19: 278˗282.
Güçlüsoy, H, & Savaş, Y. 2003. Interaction between monk seals Monachus monachus (Hermann, 1779) and marine fish farms in the Turkish Aegean and management of the problem. Aquaculture Research, 34: 777-783.
Güçlüsoy, H., Kıraç, C.O, Veryeri, N.O. & Savaş, Y. 2004. Status of the Mediterranean monk seal, Monachus monachus (Hermann, 1779) in the coastal waters of Turkey. Journal of Fisheries & Aquatic Sciences, 21: 201–210.
Gücü, A. C., Sakinan, S. & Meltem, O. 2009. Occurrence of the critically endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal, Monachus monachus, at Olympos-Beydağları National Park, Turkey (Mammalia: Phocidae). Zoology in the Middle East, 46: 3-8.
Johnson, W.M. & Karamanlidis A.A. 2000. When fishermen save seals. The Monachus Guardian, 3: 18-22.
Karamanlidis, A. & Dendrinos, P. 2015. Monachus monachus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. Http://www.iucnredlist.org. [Accessed 25 July 2015].
Öztürk, B. 2007. Akdeniz Foku ve Korunmasi. Yalıkavak Environment and Seal Research Society Publication no: 1. Muğla, Turkey.
Öztürk, B., Candan, A. & Erk, M.H. 1991. Cruise results covering the period from 1987 to 1991 on the Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus Hermann, 1779) occurring along the Turkish coastline. In Conservation of the Mediterranean Monk Seal -Technical Aspects. Antalya, Turkey.
Pires, R. 2011. Monk Seals of the Archipelago of Madeira. Serviço do Parque Natural da Madeira. Funchal, Portugal.
Pires, R., Neves, H.C. & Karamanlidis, A.A. 2008. The critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus in the archipelago of Madeira: Priorities for conservation. Oryx, 42: 278-285.
Özgür Emek Inanmaza, Özgür Değirmenci and Ali Cemal Gücü. 2014. A new sighting of the Mediterranean Monk Seal, Monachus monachus (Hermann, 1779), in the Marmara Sea (Turkey). Zoology in the Middle East, 60 (3): 278-280. DOI:10.1080/09397140.2014.944438
[…] In total six caves displaying Monk Seal resting/breeding characteristics (see Karamanlidis, Pires, Silva, & Neves, 2004; Gucu, Gucu, & Orek, 2004) were discovered. There was clear evidence in one of those cases, namely the peculiar odour and tracks on the inner sandy beach, and this indicated the recent presence of a seal in the cave. The cave had a surface opening with an inner area and a platform formed by sand, pebbles and large boulders. During the surveys, seals were sighted at four different occasions on 21 April, 27-30 May and 14 June 2014, and were recorded on a video. […]
Erdem Danyer, Işıl Aytemiz, Ali Cemal Gücü, Arda M. Tonay. 2014. Preliminary study on a stranding case of Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus (Hermann, 1779) on the Eastern Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Journal of the Black Sea / Mediterranean Environment 20(2): 152-157. [Download]
The Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus (Hermann, 1779) is one of the critically endangered species in the world and in the northeast Mediterranean Sea there is a continuously breeding population. On 28 February 2014, 3-3.5 months old, male Mediterranean monk seal stranded near Yasilovacık Harbour, Mersin. Gross necropsy was carried out one day later. The seal was emaciated and lungs were pneumonic. This paper summarizes the preliminary findings of the gross necropsy.
By Middle East Technical University (METU) – Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS)
Harbour construction endangering a known Mediterranean monk seal breeding cave in Yeşilovacik, Mersin, poses great danger to the northeastern population of the species
Online Petition: Please consider signing the online petition against this development at Change.org
The Middle East Technical University Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS-METU) has been studying the Mediterranean monk seal population inhabiting the northeastern Mediterranean since 1994. The cave surveys and subsequent monitoring activities in the area showed that the western rocky shores of Mersin (a county on the south coast of Turkey) holds the largest continuously breeding monk seal colony on the Turkish coast. During the onset of the 1990’s, this group of seals was on the verge of extinction because the social bonds within the colony had been broken by very high deliberate killings and loss of habitat. The fragmented community structure led to almost zero whelping rate. However, until very recently, despite the negative growth of the species elsewhere in the Mediterranean, the number of seals in this area was increasing with steadily improving whelping success. The size of the colony is estimated as 34 individuals as of 2013. Yet, the range of this population was expanded by some members of the colony returning to habitats abandoned in the past and establishing new families.
The plight of the species in the area was probably reversed by two conservation measures enforced since 1997. The first is the ban on an industrial fishery over the seals’ overfished feeding habitats by which the main food source of the growing colony was secured. Secondly, the coastal strips containing essential habitats for seals, such as breeding and resting caves, have been designated as a First Degree Natural Asset, so that further coastal development has been stopped. These regulations enabled re-integration of the dispersed seal community so that social structure within the families was re-established and the breeding success was re-gained.
A pregnant seal requires certain morphological features in a cave in order to use it to give birth and to raise her pup, such as an underwater entrance reaching to a well aerated air chamber; a haul-out platform long and wide enough to protect a new born pup against high waves during storms; a well sheltered inner pool in which the land-born pup can practice swimming. There are more than 50 caves used by the seals within the protected area; however only 8 of these caves fulfil the whelping requirements allowing them to be used by breeding females. This low number clearly underlines the uniqueness of the breeding caves and urges their protection.
One of these breeding caves is located near to Yesilovacık village. The cave has been monitored remotely by infrared cameras and it was documented that a small family of seals composed of 4 individuals use the cave throughout a year. This cave marked the easternmost limit of the seal colony before enforcement of the seal conservation measures mentioned above. Today this cave acts as a bridge between the core colony and the pioneers moving further east. Moreover, it is a very critical cave since there are no other caves in the near vicinity with similar morphology that the inhabitants could move to if they are forced to leave. Very recently the university was contacted to evaluate a modification plan on the borders of one of the Natural Assets mentioned above. The plan involves construction of a new road passing through the protected area on land. Further inspections revealed that the road is just the tip of the iceberg; and that the actual plan is to construct a huge marine terminal just 500 meters away from a breeding cave and the road was intended to provide a shortcut between the new harbor and the main arterial road for the expected lorry traffic of 400 vehicles per day. The local authorities for the protection of the Natural Assets did not permit construction of the new road. However by law, the “Natural assets” conservation status does not cover seaward extension of an ecologically important coastal structure. Such a massive construction in the sea, which involves the transport and dumping of huge quantities of construction material, and the subsequent marine traffic, would inevitably have a detrimental impact on the seal cave and its inhabitants. Moreover, with the impact of a new nuclear power plant, that will be constructed 10 km west of the marine terminal, the entire monk seal population in the north-eastern Mediterranean would be deeply impacted. It is feared that these new constructions will return the seal population to the fragmented ill state experienced in early 1990’s.
As such projects would undoubtedly have detrimental consequences on the seals, a scientific team of experts from IMS-METU, has been extremely concerned about the entire venture and therefore the team initiated a monitoring survey in the cave using photo-traps on 4th April 2010 (ca 900 seal photographs have been obtained to date). Based on the surveys carried out at the site, the national authorities in charge of monk seal conservation were alerted on the importance of this issue. The inevitable consequences of the construction and chiefly the crucial loss of yet another breeding cave for the seal population in the entire eastern Mediterranean has been presented to the authorities concerned by various means including population viability analysis which projects a hopeless future for the colony. Following the reckless reaction by the authorities, a letter of complaint was submitted to the secretariat of the BERN Convention. Additionally as a response to the situation, the NGO Underwater Research Society issued a summons against the ministry responsible for the protection of wildlife in Turkey for reaching a critical decision based on a superficial report and disregarding the environmental significance of the site. Later, the ministry stated that no construction will begin until the National court has reached its final decision.
According to the report submitted by the Turkish government to the Standing Committee of the BERN Convention in October 2013, Turkish authorities halted construction for only five months despite the previous decision that “there will be no construction until the National court has reached a final decision” but meanwhile commencement of the construction operation was tragically witnessed. It was recently stated in the report of the Standing Committee held on 3-6 December 2013, that Turkish authorities will establish a pool of experts to inspect the current situation and that meanwhile building construction be suspended until the possible impact on the morphology of the cave and consequently on the Monk Seal population are assessed.
The research team has visited the area on a regular basis and is in contact with the local village inhabitants at the construction site. They witnessed that the construction activities carried on (with some deceptive slowdowns) in the area even during the breeding season of the monk seal. The efforts to push the authorities to take necessary actions and to stop the construction until the court’s decision have so far proven unsuccessful. It is vitally important to emphasize that, since the huge building construction project is continuing and has recently progressed extremely rapidly then in all probability construction may be finalized before the national court reaches its final decision.
Given that all cameras were active and recording the seal movements in the cave since the very beginning there has been a remarkable and worrying decrease in seal activity in the cave during 2013. More strikingly no single event was recorded during the period from the beginning of July 2013 until the beginning of December 2013. Recordings obtained in December 2013 show one female – presumably the mother – and one new born pup photographed in the same cave. Another cause for much concern has been the disappearance of a pup born in December 2012. Typical to the monk seals in the eastern Mediterranean, a young seal tends to remain in and around the natal cave during the first year of life. Moreover the number of seals that previously used the cave before the initiation of construction has vanished. There are already very few caves in the region suitable for breeding activity which is considered to be a critical factor limiting the breeding success. The lack of seal activity in the cave for the past 6 months (Fig 1) clearly shows that the seals abandoned the cave and most probably the entire area during the heavy construction period. However, the female carrying the pup was forced to return to the cave as there was no other alternative whelping site in the immediate surroundings. The last record obtained from the cameras was a single photograph showing the new born pup in a very undernourished and weak condition.
Unfortunately, the most disturbing event was the death of the said pup born in the cave around 24 November 2013. The carcass of the animal was found on the beach near the construction site by local inhabitants on 28th February 2014. A group from the construction company personnel allegedly attempted to dispose of the carcass as reported by the locals. Due to this threat, the locals hid the carcass with the aim of delivering it to IMS-METU for examination.
The necropsy of the pup was performed on 29th February 2014 at IMS-METU by authorized veterinarians. Examination revealed clear indications of malnutrition such as extremely thin blubber (1.9 cm), an empty gut with a very cachectic appearance and state. Furthermore, inspection of the events recorded by the photo-traps show no signs of the mother visiting the cave, indicating that the mother-pup bond had been broken. In the extensive and uninterrupted series of photographs the pup continually rests on the shore inside the cave, does not leave the cave in search of food and is neither accompanied by his mother nor breastfed.
According to Turkish press reports, the veterinarian charged with beating orphaned monk seal Badem during an ill-conceived ‘aversion therapy’ programme, has received a court sanctioned fine of 848 TL. (approximately $470). It remains unclear whether the Foça town abattoir vet, Avni Gök, will be banned from future monk seal rehabilitations.
In response to questions from TMG, Turkish monk seal NGO SAD-AFAG, responsible for Badem’s rescue and on-again, off-again rehabilitation, insisted that it had neither approved nor was aware of the veterinarian’s training regime, video footage of which sparked widespread public anger. While condemning the actions of Gök, AFAG’s Cem Orkun Kirac suggested that the footage had been leaked by local opponents of AFAG rehabilitation projects, and that the veterinarian’s methods had not been inspired by cruelty or malice.
TMG’s opinion is that the training regime applied was at best driven out of ignorance and at worst represents a clear case of inexcusable animal cruelty. While Hawaiian monk seal researchers occasionally employ “aversive conditioning” to drive monk seals away from situations in which they or members of the public are deemed at risk, (1) these are applied within the specific situation in which such action is required, not in an enclosed pool where no such risk exists, and (2) utilise actions such as noise, lights or “waving a palm frond” at the animal — presumably not quite in the same league as beating it with a stick.
We understand that AFAG intends to issue an English language press release on the issue within a matter of days.
Jenkinson, E. M. 2010. Aversive conditioning and monk seal – human interactions in the main Hawaiian Islands: Aversive Conditioning Workshop, Honolulu, Hawaii, November 10-11, 2009. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo., NOAA-TM-NMFS-PIFSC-25, 28 p. + Appendices. [PDF 268 KB]
A leaked video purporting to show conservationists administering human contact “aversion therapy” to rehabilitated monk seal Badem, has sparked anger and indignation among academics and the general public both in Turkey and abroad.
The video, reportedly dated 3 April 2008, appears to show Badem’s carers hitting the seal repeatedly with a stick in what is assumed to be an effort to instil in the animal a reluctance to approach and interact with humans. TMG has requested clarification from the organisation responsible, the Mediterranean Seal Research Group (AFAG), and hopes to publish its response in due course.
The famous monk seal orphan has been in and out of captivity repeatedly due to her increasingly boisterous — and at times, dangerous — interactions with summer bathers.
The leaked video has appeared in major Turkish media outlets, including Milliyet and CNNTurk.
This is certainly preferable to tube-feeding – if the pups will take sufficient food this way. However, better still would be to enable the pups to suck by bottle-feeding. Have you attempted this? There is a baby’s soft silicone nursing bottle available (Tommee Tippee Nuby natural touch soft flex silicone nurser). This enables you to squeeze the bottle gently with the teat in the pup’s mouth and give the pup the idea of sucking from the bottle. It might be worth a try.
I am pleased to note you kept both pups together – this will have greatly benefited their normal behaviour after release. I am including this info on the Seal Conservation Soc Med monk seal page, rehab section. Could you let me know the pups’ sexes (and their names), whether they were tagged or marked in any way at release, and any information you have on them post-release? Many thanks and best wishes.
Cem Orkun Kiraç of the Underwater Research Society – Mediterranean Seal Research Group (SAD-AFAG) replies:
Thank you for your interest in the rescue and rehab of the two orphaned pups; I would be glad to clarify some points and reply to the questions in your feedback in the TMG.
SAD-AFAG and other relevant organizations in the world had been trying to feed orphaned monk seals under rehabilitation without relying on force-feeding for a long time. However, force-feeding proved to be the only feasible technique until this last case in 2011. In our experience, food range changes from octopus to eel and from bonito to grey mullet depending on the different phases of the rehabilitation and care process.
As for the feeding of monk seal pups, since a cow-based milk formula is not advised for monk seal pups, only fish porridge, which is prepared carefully prior to force-feeding, is given to pups through a tube. Fish porridge is not a thin liquid and contains fine particles of fish flesh — although minced well and mixed with water — and therefore easily obstructs the opening of a silicone nurser. Apart from this apparent limitation, monk seal pups also refuse to suckle from the nurser. During the rehab and care process by SAD-AFAG of the two pups named Dilara and Tina, both females, in the Foça Rehab Unit, we tried insistently to achieve this technique in several different ways; however, the pups refused to suckle on the natural touch soft flex silicone nurser in the first week, as we expected. Actually, although the fish is minced thoroughly, the fish flesh particles become stuck and the liquid does not flow. Therefore, even if the pups had desired to suckle the nurser from a bottle, it would not have been possible to achieve a flow of fish porridge. Meanwhile, different techniques were tried including offering fish porridge to let the pups eat directly from an open cup.
Fortunately, SAD-AFAG’s rehab team first succeeded in teaching the pups to suckle the carer’s finger after some time, which finally led the pups to suckle fish porridge from the open cups. They ate very well without any complication and even developed this ability as time passed. We then gradually increased the amount of fish porridge to 1500 gr, on average, consisting of fish and water in each feeding session for each pup, both of which consumed the full amount.
Later in the last period, the pups passed to the live fish eating stage, completing their rehab in 3.5 months. Just before release, the pups weighed 34 kg and 37 kg respectively, and were very healthy and strong so that even blood sampling could be made very difficult due to vigorous resistance exerted against the carers and the veterinarian.
Completing the clinical examinations on site and also analysis of blood, vaginal smear, nose secretion and faeces samples, the Veterinary Polyclinics’ report also proved that the animals had no health problem. Therefore, without hesitation, it was decided jointly by SAD-AFAG and the Turkish Ministry of Environment & Forest to finish the rehab process. The pups were released along the wild coast between Anamur and Gazipaşa, Southern Türkiye on 2 April 2011. The pups were treated in the Foça Monk Seal Rehab Unit so as to bring interaction with carers to an absolute minimum.
Preparing for release, SAD-AFAG decided not to mark the animals in order not to generate curiosity, especially among local people and fishermen, who may otherwise have approached or tried to interact with the pups. SAD-AFAG also avoided mounting any satellite device (transmitter) on top of the head of the animals, reasoning that device and antenna could pose a serious risk of entanglement for the pups in set nets laid by artisanal fishermen. Based on our experience along Turkish coasts, the mortality rate of monk seal pups 4 to 8 months of age due to entanglement in set nets underwater and drowning is high. Therefore, it was considered possible that, if mounted, the antennas of the devices would create an increased risk for the survival of the pups.
Our team, the Turkish Coast Guard boat and the Ministry of Environment & Forest district directorate staff, all working on site, attempted to monitor the pups after the release for around three months. The above organizations, which monitored the site independently, reported no dead seal stranded along the coastline and no live monk seal pups approaching local fishermen or local people, a sign of imprinted pups. Therefore, our judgment is that both pups merged into the meta-population living in the Anamur and Gazipaşa district (Cilicia region) with its remote rocky coasts, cliffs and several suitable caves.