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A monk seal, one of the world's rarest mammals, was spotted near the Herzliya coast and off the coast of Caesarea over the weekend. This was the first time in decades that the monk seal has made an appearance in Israel.

One of the seals was spotted on Friday by Moshe Taviv and his son, Haim, while fishing. The seal appeared sick and exhausted. The two alerted Shmuel Landau of the Ramat Gan Safari Park, but the seal evaded Landau's efforts to help and escaped.

Officials from the Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center subsequently tried unsuccessfully to locate the animal. Saturday they received a report from fishermen off the Caesarea coast who had seen the monk seal. A picture of the seal taken by a fisherman was sent to experts in the Netherlands, who said the monk seal was probably a female.

The seals can be as much as 2.40 meters in length and can dive to a depth of 100 meters. The most recent sightings of monk seals in Israel occurred 50 years ago.

There were also reports around the same time of sightings in Lebanon of 10 to 20 monk seals, but in recent years there have been no reports of monk seals in the region.

It is thought that fewer than 400 monk seals remain in the entire Mediterranean, half of them in Greek waters.

Many years ago environmental organizations designated the monk seal as one of the Mediterranean marine animals most in danger of extinction. Efforts have been made in Greece and Turkey to protect them, but most of the monk seals' habitat is still not protected and its circumstances continue to deteriorate.