Last week the Fethiye Times team was delighted to receive some unique photographs from regular reader, Colin Waters. A few days previously he and his wife, Sue, had been sailing in their yacht, Hilda May, in the Gulf of Fethiye with their friend, published author and keen photographer, Garry Kilworth. They were tucking into their lunch when…

Fortunately, Garry writes a blog, so we asked him to tell the story…

An unexpected visitor

We were in a bay enjoying a lunch of cheese and tomatoes, followed by dried figs. Before the first fig, Colin suddenly pointed over my shoulder at something in the water. ‘A seal!’ he cried. ‘A seal in these warm waters!’ I fancy myself as an amateur wildlife photographer and reached for my camera…

Snacking on Octopus
Snacking on Octopus

… The seal was also eating a good wholesome lunch, but hers consisted of a still-wriggling cephalopod that eventually shuffled off its mortal coil and resigned itself to the spirit world. I took some pictures, around ten in all, and then our Pinniped visitor swam away. When we returned to Fethiye, Colin (who loves a bit of research) spent some time on his iPad and contacted a local English-language newspaper.

Then things began to grow exciting as Colin was directed to SAD-AFAG, an organisation that works for the conservation of the endangered Mediterranean Monk seal and the protection of its habitat along the Turkish coastline. When the photos were examined it appeared that our seal was indeed a young female Monk seal (not a Nun seal? Oh well, semantics), [and] one that had not been previously recorded.

Just a few hundred left…

Badem - Mediterranean Monk Seal
Badem – Mediterranean Monk Seal

There are only a few hundred Mediterranean Monk Seals still in existence, the ICUN lists them as critically endanged. They are all to often deliberately killed by fishermen, and the victims of pollution and loss of habitat. Around a 100 Monachus monachus live in caves along the Turkish coast, reached either by underwater entrances or surface openings. They eat mostly octopuses, fish, crabs and lobsters. Adult Monk seals measure from 2.2 metres to 3 metres in length, and weigh in at 200-300 kg.

According to the ICUN:

The current worldwide population is about 350-450 individuals; information on past population numbers is not available, but it is inferred that only twenty years ago they were at least the double of present numbers.

Garry explained that the seal they spotted now has a name:

… Colin asked Cem [Kıraç] of SAD-AFAG if he could name the new female Monk. Given a ‘yes’ […] our Mediterranean Monk seal was christened Hilda, after the yacht from which she was seen by its captain (and that yacht named for that same captain’s mother) … Whether she likes her new moniker or [not], our young lunchtime visitor won the hearts of all those on board the Hilda May, especially the skipper who would not rest until she was identified and named, and had been adopted by him and his crew.

Remember Badem?

Back in 2010 the Turkish media was full of stories about a rescued Mediterranean Monk Seal pup, Badem.

Badem - Mediterranean Monk Seal
Badem – Mediterranean Monk Seal

When she became too used to being around humans, and a few incidents occurred, for her own safety SAD – AFAG cared for her. At that time Fethiye Times were invited to visit her and take some photographs. We have kept in touch with Cem Orkun Kıraç and today, when we asked him what had happened to Badem, he told us there have been no sightings since 2012 but he thinks she is still alive.

If you would like to help SAD AFAG by ‘adopting’ a monk seal click here.

Mediterranean Monk Seal pup
Mediterranean Monk Seal pup

For more information about Mediterranean Monk Seals in Turkey click here.

To read more of Garry Kilworth’s blog click here.