Monk seals imperiled by near-war in Aegean

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1996:

ISTANBUL––As a game of capture-theflag
among youths on the rocky islands between
Greece and Turkey escalated from taunts to trouble in
late January, Turkish Mediterranean monk seal expert
Bayram Ozturk of the Istanbul University faculty of
fisheries apparently tried to pour oil on the troubled
waters, but only stoked the conflagration, which was
eventually stopped only through the personal intercession
of U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Said Ozturk on January 31 via the MARMAM
online bulletin board, “The Mediterranean
monk seal population in Turkey is no longer stable,”
something of an understatement. “The most recent
census, made last year, found 47 individuals. On
the Bodram Peninsula, only six individuals including
pups are living in the small islands called Cavus,
Iremit, and Kardak. Since 1991, the Monk Seal
Protection Project has been conducted in these islets
on behalf of the Turkish Ministry of the Environment
by Istanbul University. Unfortunately,” Ozturk continued,
“Kardak got occupied by Greek soldiers.

Later, Greek and Turkish armies started to maneuver
in this area. Aircraft, destroyers, and coast guards
are all there. The monk seals are between two armies!
If any seal dies during this military showing off, who
will be responsible?”
Ozturk asked that protest be addressed to
Greece, at which point Vrassidas Zavras of the
Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the
Monk Seal accused him of attempting “to involve the
Mediterranean monk seal in the recent conflict
between Greece and Turkey.”
Ozturk then documented the presence of
monk seals around Kardak––but The New York Times,
apparently as oblivious to the seals as the near-combatants,
still described the incident later as an
“Aegean tantrum” over territory whose “only inhabitants
are 12 goats.”

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