Headlines – News – Articles
23rd March, 2012

Pup reported close to release

In a brief announcement on its Facebook page, Greek NGO MOm has announced that monk seal pup ‘Fokion’, currently in rehab on Alonnisos, now weighs more than 40 kilos, eats 5 kilos of fish 3 times per day, and is almost ready for release. Fokion was rescued in February on the island of Syros.

7th March, 2012

Veterinarian fined in monk seal beating case

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.

Sources: Fok Badem’i döven veterinere para cezası, Radical, 5 March 2012.

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]

22nd February, 2012

Pup enters rehab in Greece

Photo courtesy MOm

A 3-month old male pup, ‘weak, in poor nutritional condition and very dehydrated’ has been rescued on the island of Syros, according to Greek monk seal conservation organisation, MOm. The pup, named ‘Phokion’ by local school students, was evacuated to the organisation’s treatment ‘unit’ in Steni Vala, on the island of Alonnisos on 17 February. Treatment is proceeding under veterinary supervision.

20th February, 2012

Leaked ‘training’ video sparks anger

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.


27th January, 2012

Feds: Hawaiian monk seal population 30% higher because of rescues

Media Watch, The Republic, 26 January 2012

NOAA researchers freeing an entangled monk seal. Courtesy NOAA.

Federal data show cutting Hawaiian monk seals free from fishing nets, moving vulnerable pups away from preying sharks and other efforts to rescue the animals are significantly helping the endangered species.

One-fifth of the roughly 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals in the world are alive today because of interventions to save them, their mother or their grandmother between 1994 and 2009, figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show.

The seal population is also about 30 percent larger today than it would have been if authorities didn’t act. [More]

Source: Feds: Hawaiian monk seal population is 30 percent higher today because of rescue efforts, The Republic, Audrey McAvoy/AP, 26 January 2012.

16th December, 2011

KP2 in captivity at Waikiki Aquarium

Media Watch, Audrey McAvoy, Associated Press, 15 December 2011

A nearly blind Hawaiian monk seal found years ago trying to suckle a rock at a Kauai beach after his mother abandoned him is settling into his new home at the Waikiki Aquarium.

Hoailona, also known as KP2, has been poking his snout into the corners and edges of the outdoor pool as he explores the new environment he moved into this week. [Continues]

Source: Hawaiian monk seal finds new home at aquarium, Audrey McAvoy, Associated Press, 15 December 2011.

3rd November, 2011

Feeding orphaned monk seal pups

Letters to the Editor

Comments on Turkish NGO’s efforts to substitute force-feeding with hand-feeding
[Two orphaned pups enter rehab in Foça | Foça pups: feeding video]

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.

— Sue Wilson (Tara Seal Research and Seal Conservation Society)

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.

For further information, please visit




I hope these replies and clarification are satisfactory, and in case you need further information please do not hesitate to contact us.

— Cem O. Kiraç, SAD-AFAG

2nd November, 2011

KP2 returns to Hawaii

Media Watch, San Jose Mercury News, 1 November 2011

Coast Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft crew members, from Air Station Sacramento, along with biologists and veterinarians from the University of California Santa Cruz load a monk seal into a C-130 aircraft, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials, Coast Guard representatives and UCSC marine life specialists coordinated the seal transfer to the Waikiki Aquarium in Hawaii. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman David Flores.

A Hawaiian monk seal taken from Molokai after he was found to be nearly blind and interacting roughly with people returned to the islands Tuesday.

KP2 arrived on a Coast Guard flight from California, where he has spent the past two years at a university research lab. Scientists there were examining his eyes and studying his eating habits for research on monk seal metabolism.

The 205-pound seal, which was born on Kauai and briefly lived on Molokai, where he became famous for playing with people at Kaunakakai, will be under quarantine at the Waikiki Aquarium for four to six weeks.

He’ll then move to his new home in the aquarium’s monk seal pool where he will join one more seal on public display. [Continues]

Source: Hawaiian monk seal returns to islands from Calif., Audry McAvoy, Associated Press, San Jose Mercury News, 1 November 2011.