Rare seal Yulia spotted on Gaza shores, appears headed to Egypt

Palestinian media publishes first confirmed images of the celebrity monk seal after several days of sightings in the waters off Gaza

The Mediterranean monk seal known as Yulia seen on a Gaza beach on June 2, 2023. (Social media: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
The Mediterranean monk seal known as Yulia seen on a Gaza beach on June 2, 2023. (Social media: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

An Israeli environmental group said its researchers confirmed Friday that a rare and endangered Mediterranean monk seal — affectionately known as Yulia in Israel — was spotted on a Gaza beach.

Citing a Gazan environmental and marine sciences professor, the Delphis Association, an Israeli nonprofit for marine mammals, said it appeared Yulia has been in and around Gaza since Wednesday.

The reports from Gaza indicated that she had sporadically come ashore there in recent days and appeared to be continuing to move south, with the last sighting being about a kilometer from Gaza’s border with Egypt.

The Palestinian news site Donia Al-Watan also published a short video of the seal being approached by people on the Gaza shore and quickly scampering back into the water and swimming off.

The Hamas-run agriculture ministry in Gaza first reported Wednesday that a seal arrived on the shore of the coastal enclave before returning to the sea shortly, but the sightings were not immediately confirmed.

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.

Yulia, who was given her name by an Israeli 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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