The Turquoise Coast

On Location: In Search of the Mediterranean Monk Seal

Zegrahm Contributor|November 9, 2011|Blog Post

With the first rays of the sun bathing the landscape, we found ourselves nosing the Clipper Odyssey into one of the most secluded, breathtakingly beautiful bays on Turkey’s Turquoise Coast. The dramatic limestone peaks of the Taurus range formed the backdrop for our exploration of the tiny village of Kas and its most famous historic edifice, the Hellenistic Theater of Antiphellus.

But this morning it was natural, rather than human, history on my mind, for this remote coastline is home to one of the world’s most elusive mammals, the Mediterranean monk seal. Once widely distributed from the Black Sea to the Atlantic coast of West Africa, this animal has undergone a catastrophic decline across its range, as a result of causes as diverse as direct persecution by fishermen for poaching fish from their nets and lines, to disturbance of their breeding beaches by coastal development. The remnant population, now estimated at under 500 individuals, is divided into two main areas: the deserted, Saharan coast of Mauritania, and the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean region of Greece and Turkey in which we now found ourselves. As I carefully scanned the quiet waters of the bay, I secretly hoped that we would be so lucky…

During the time of the ancient Greeks, the seals formed small colonies on rocky coasts, the males wooing their consorts with high-pitched, bird-like songs that gave rise to the myth of the sirens, luring sailors to their deaths. Nowadays, they use mostly inaccessible sea caves for pupping and we carefully scanned the nooks and crannies of the convoluted coast as we sailed into the bay. Suddenly, a head broke the surface of the inky water, and my heart stopped - but close inspection revealed the chunky head and hooked profile of a loggerhead turtle, a species that still nests in good numbers along these coasts. And sadly, that was as close as we ever came to seeing the rarest of all pinnipeds, despite careful searches around Kas and adjacent areas. We can only hope that the admirable effort of the Turkish government yields results in the ongoing protection of this charismatic creature.