Celebrity seal Yulia makes comeback on Israeli beach after four-day absence

Rare and endangered Mediterranean monk seal is spotted again on Sharon region shore before heading back into the water, extending her 2-week stay

Yulia, an endangered Mediterranean monk seal, rests on the beach in Tel Aviv, May 2023. (Yehiel Lamesh)
Yulia, an endangered Mediterranean monk seal, rests on the beach in Tel Aviv, May 2023. (Yehiel Lamesh)

A seal who became a minor celebrity in Israel after she appeared on a local beach earlier this month, was spotted again in the country Thursday after a four-day absence.

The rare and endangered Mediterranean monk seal — affectionately known as Yulia in Israel, which very rarely attracts the marine mammal — popped out of the waves again on a beach in the Sharon region of the country.

Two families on the beach spotted Yulia and snapped a photo, but were careful to keep their distance as has been previously advised by marine experts.

Yulia spent several minutes on the sand and then slid back into the water.

Mia Elasar, head of the Delphis Association, an Israeli nonprofit for marine mammals, said Yulia looked well, according to Hebrew media reports.

Israel Nature and Parks Authority marine wardens began a search of the beach to check if the seal had reappeared in order to protect her in case she did.

Before that, Yulia was last seen on Israel’s coast on Saturday, with many believing she had embarked on a lengthy migration to the area of Turkey.

On one instance on Saturday, she was forced to return to the waters after being chased by overenthusiastic bathers.

Video from that scene showed teens racing toward her shouting “Yulia” and laughing, with the seal quickly scampering back into the water.

The seal achieved celebrity status when she first appeared on Israeli shores earlier this month before spending several days lounging on Jaffa beach, drawing thousands of onlookers who were kept at an adequate distance by marine officials.

Since last Tuesday, Yulia has largely returned to the sea, with just brief stops on land.

Yulia, who was given her name by a local boy who first discovered her, arrived on Jaffa’s beach on May 12.

She quickly became the subject of 24-hour surveillance both by the press and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which had sent volunteers to keep watch and ensure that the crowds of people who have gathered since her arrival didn’t disturb her.

Yulia is a Mediterranean monk seal, one of roughly 600-700 left in the world, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, though other estimates put the number even lower. The species is classified as endangered.

Yulia was listless and shaking when she first arrived on Israeli shores, and experts were worried that she was ill. But when Turkish researchers at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, received images of Yulia, they recognized her as a monk seal they had already seen, named Tugra, who is known to have a penchant for both swimming great lengths and napping for extraordinarily long stretches of time. She is over 20 years old and has a reputation for traveling, having been spotted as far away as Greece and Turkey.

Elasar of Delphis has said Yulia’s (or Tugra’s) globetrotting wasn’t the only reason for her initial extreme fatigue. When she arrived in Jaffa, she was spotted with large bite marks in two areas of her body. According to Elasar’s Turkish colleagues, those marks were not present at her last sighting in 2019, off the coast of Lebanon. She was also shedding her fur, a process that requires a lot of energy.

Guy Levian, of the Nature and Parks Authority, said it was the first time a seal had been observed resting on the shore in Israel. In 2010, a seal was observed for the first time riding waves close to the beach in Herzliya, but it did not make landfall.

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