Kostis, a Mediterranean monk seal, was a playful creature, beloved by residents of and visitors to the Greek island of Alonissos. He could be spotted from the island’s shores, striking poses for the cameras or sunning himself on boats in the port.
But over the weekend, the friendly seal was found “deliberately killed” at “close range” by a spear gun, according to the Athens-based organization MOm, which aims to study and protect monk seals. The news sparked ire across the island and prompted Greek authorities to launch an investigation into Kostis’s killing.
“Unfortunately, yet again, it is proven that human wickedness and stupidity have no limits!” read a statement a statement from MOm. The organization offered a reward of more than $21,000 to anyone who reports information or evidence to the authorities investigating the seal’s death.
Alonissos is part of the National Marine Park of Alonissos and Northern Sporades, the largest marine protected area in Europe, where the Mediterranean monk seal is guarded under Greek law.
Named after the fisherman who rescued him as a pup from Cyclone Zorbas in 2018, Kostis was one of no more than 700 of his kind left in the world, according to the Marine Mammal Commission. MOm rehabilitated and cared for the young seal for five months after his rescue before releasing him back into the Aegean Sea.
His death is part of a larger trend: In fewer than two years, 19 Mediterranean monk seals have been found dead in the Greek seas, according to Anastasia Miliou, scientific director at the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation and Greek ambassador to the European Union for sustainable maritime policy issues.
Miliou said that while Kostis lived in a protected region, “there is very poor enforcement of these protection measures.”
“It is widely known that there is tolerance for spear gun fishing, along with many other prohibited activities, in this region,” she said, which “creates a general atmosphere of disregard and disrespect for the laws in place.”
His past rehabilitation by humans and subsequent notoriety as the “mascot” of the island could also have put him at greater risk because he was so comfortable around people, Miliou said.
“If the rehabilitation and reintroduction process had followed a different approach, this seal would not have been exposed to as many humans and boats and close interactions as Kostis was.”
On Facebook, dozens of people mourned his death and demanded accountability.
“How sad I am . . . Only sadness,” wrote one user.
“Give the harshest punishment to those who did the act so that we can finally learn to respect the value of life,” wrote another.
“The more I see this creature, my anger grows,” another comment said.
MOm said its members were grieving the news, as were the “residents and visitors of Alonnisos who had the luck to admire ‘Kostis’ from close by.”