The tourist is a seal

The tourist is a seal

Israel hosted a record number of Mediterranean monks this week, as a member of the endangered seal species turned up on a Jaffa beach.

This is the first recorded Israeli landfall by a Mediterranean monk seal. That’s a species that is believed to include only about 600 to 700 members. Its range includes the northeastern Atlantic Ocean as well as the Mediterranean.

Until now, the water mammals have been spotted swimming offshore, but this is the first time any made it to land.

“I was passing by while riding my bike, and I thought it was a dolphin,” said Avi Benson, who first spotted the animal. “After I got closer, I saw a seal coming in and out of the water. I thought it was injured until she got to the beach to rest. I called the police and from there they transferred me to the Nature and Parks Authority, who arrived quickly.”

As the animal welfare officials set up a tape barricade to protect the seal from onlookers, including some children who threw stones at it, they asked one of the children what she should be called. The answer was “Yulia.”

In fact, Yulia already had a name — Tugra. But it as Yulia that the Parks Authority is providing frequent updates on her comings and goings, and the Kan television channel has set up a livestream of her favorite spot on the beach.

Officials hope that Yulia/Tugra eventually will return home to Turkey, where she will find more isolated beaches. In the meantime, though, they hope the publicity will protect her if she moves on to another Israeli beach. They point out that it was a stroke of pure luck on the seal’s part to have swum ashore at a designated nature reserve.

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