Argyro is a monk seal who can be seen posing for photographs on the beaches of Samos in the eastern Aegean, a mascot and favorite attraction with young and old alike. While still a pup, about three years ago, she started approaching bathers and soon gained quite a following. But can a wild 150-kilogram animal really be treated like a pet? This summer, Argyro sent at least two people to hospital, possibly while playing. They reported the incidents to the local authorities, who, after lengthy discussions, decided she should be transferred to another location.
The decision was approved by Alternate Minister for the Environment Yiannis Tsironis, as the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) is an endangered species protected by domestic and European legislation and authorities fear that if Argyro causes any more injuries, or worse, her life will be at risk.
“Argyro would come out of the water and onto the beaches of Samos from a very young age. It wasn’t a problem when she was small but these cases don’t usually end well,” says Panos Dendrinos of MoM, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to the protection of the Mediterranean monk seal and tasked with the operation of catching and relocating the sociable Samos seal.
“It is a powerful animal and may want to play, believing that humans are seals and can stay under the water for long periods of time. But if a 150-kilogram mammal swims up to you while you’re in the water, this can be dangerous,” adds Dendrinos.
According to sources, the two complainants said they were attacked by Argyro while swimming.
“This seal needs to be given the chance to join a group of her own species,” says Aristotle University Veterinary School professor Anastasia Komninou, who will be supervising the operation. “We will be placing a tracker on her so we can monitor her movements via satellite. Then we will move her to an area where there is a monk seal population. If she ends up on beaches again in the summer, then we’ll have to consider confining her. The contact between humans and a wild animal may be very exhilarating but it may end very badly for both. The best thing people can do when they see a large marine animal on a beach is to leave it alone and notify the coast guard, which will know what to do. Wild animals belong in nature and we should not try to become ‘friends’ with them or create a relationship whereby they become dependent on us.”