|THE SEAL MAN|
by Willard Manus
It is an unlikely sight: a helicopter suddenly descending in a crescendo of noise and dust on a cow pastrure outside the tiny, white village of Olymbos, Karpathos--an island settlement so remote that its inhabitants still wear the traditional embroidered clothes of ancient Greece.
Equally unlikely is the burly, graying Canadian who leaps out of the chopper and rushes down in the 105-degree heat to begin talking to the fishermen about seal conservation. At first, the fishermen look at each other in amazement and ask: "Who is this trelos (crazy one) dropping out of the sky to lecture us about seals?" To them, seals are the enemy. They destroy nets, steal fish. There is only one thing to do with seals: shoot them.
Yet so persuasive is he that within half an hour the fishermen are not only laughing and joking with him, they have sworn to help him save the Mediterranean seal. From now on, instead of shooting seals, they will
simply report the sighting to the authorities. "Efharisto para poli" (thanks a lot) and he rushes back up the hill, climbs back into his helicopter and whirls off to another island to repeat the proceedure.
What is this man doing rushing around the Aegean proselytizing on behalf of an obscure species of seal? He is trying to save mankind. He is not sure it can be done. "I have become a pessimist in my old age," he says (he is 68). But then he is preoccupied with time running out. He is pessimistic because, even though we know what may happen, we sit on our hands doing nothing about it and time is running out.
And so, because the seal is a small yet integral link in the whole threatened life chain on our planet, Keith Ronald, Dean of the College of Biological Science, University of Guelph, Canada, has chosen to become Keith Ronald, activist and politician, the Crazy One who whirls his persuasive way through all 12 Dodecanese islands in three days hoping everyone else will start moving too. While there's still time.
The story of Monachus monachus, the monk seal of the Mediterranean,
dates back to the beginning of written history. Plutarch, Homer, Pliny
and Aristotle all wrote about it. In mythology, it was put under the protection of Poseidon and Apollo, due to its love of sea and to its docility, agility and intelligence.
Today, however, monk seals are in danger of extenction. The causes: water pollution, over-fishing and exploitation - including that by tourism - of coastlines. Only 400-800 are estimated to be alive in the entire Mediterranean region. Their disappearance would be a tragedy, Ronald believes. "If the seal cannot survive in the Med, then man himself may not be able to. Seals are air-breathing mammals, as we are. They are an indicator species of pollution, a guide to man's survival."