Yulia, the rare seal, briefly chased off Palmachim beach by overenthusiastic bathers

Environmentalists urge public to keep their distance from celebrity Mediterranean monk seal as she makes short forays ashore to rest

Monk seal Yulia rests on an Israeli beach, May 20, 2023, with Israeli environmental officials and volunteers keeping a protective watch (Delphis screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Monk seal Yulia rests on an Israeli beach, May 20, 2023, with Israeli environmental officials and volunteers keeping a protective watch (Delphis screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A rare and endangered Mediterranean monk seal — affectionately known as Yulia in Israel — briefly returned to shore several times on Saturday, but in one instance was forced to return to the waters after being chased by overenthusiastic bathers. Later Saturday, she was again seen resting on a beach, with environmental officials and volunteers keeping a protective watch on her.

The seal achieved celebrity status when she first appeared on Israeli shores last week before spending several days lounging on Jaffa beach, drawing thousands of onlookers who were kept away by marine officials.

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

On Saturday, she was spotted on the beach at the Palmachim nature reserve south of Tel Aviv.

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

A short while later she reemerged at a point further south, where beachgoers kept their distance and volunteers made sure she was not disturbed as she took a short nap.

“Yulia came onto the shore to rest, which she was eventually able to do thanks to the fact that people kept their distance,” said Maya Elasar, the head of the Delphis Association, an Israeli nonprofit for marine mammals.

“The fact that she returned to the water so quickly indicates she is now in good physical condition,” she said.

Delphis reiterated the call to the public to give her space if spotted.

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

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.

עדכון: יוליה התמקמה בחוף מבודד. פקחי רשות הטבע והגנים ומתנדבי רט"ג ודלפיס נמצאים במקום ושומרים עליה.חוקרי דלפיס בוחנים כעת את מצבה, כדי לוודא שהיא בטוב, ויעבירו תיעוד לבחינת הווטרינרים. נמשיך כל העת בעדכונים.צילום: קרינה כץ

Posted by ‎דלפיס – למען היונקים הימיים‎ on Saturday, May 20, 2023

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

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 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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