Rare celebrity seal Yulia believed spotted on Gaza shore for first time

Israeli security sources say they were updated by Hamas authorities about Yulia’s arrival, noting that military liaison to Palestinians published instructions on how to act

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)

The Hamas-run agriculture ministry in Gaza reported Wednesday that a seal arrived on the shore of the coastal enclave before returning to the sea shortly thereafter in what appeared to have been the first sighting of the celebrity seal ‘Yulia’ in the Strip.

The ministry’s fishing department said it had instructed fishermen not to touch the seal.

Also Wednesday, the Kan public broadcaster quoted Israeli security sources as saying that they were updated by unspecified figures in the Hamas-run enclave about Yulia’s arrival after several weeks on Israel’s shores.

The report also noted that Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians published instructions last week on how Gazans should act in her proximity if she shows up.

The instructions stated that passersby should not get too close to Yulia, as she is afraid of humans; that pictures and video should be taken without flash; and that dogs should be kept away from the animal.

While several Israeli reporters shared a photo on social media of a seal in Gaza believed to be Yulia, the Ynet news site said that the picture was of another seal from 2019 and that there were no confirmed photos of Yulia from Wednesday.

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

Yulia, an endangered Mediterranean monk seal, rests on the beach in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, May 16, 2023. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

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.

The rare and endangered Mediterranean monk seal was last spotted in Israel on Thursday in the Sharon region of the country.

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.

She was also spotted with large bite marks in two areas of her body and was 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 Mediterranean monk sea 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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