The Monk Seal Loses a Tireless Campaigner and an Influential Friend Link to the original text
Cem O. Kiraç and Ilksen D. Bas
Copyright © 1999 Cem O. Kiraç and Ilksen D. Bas, The Monachus Guardian. All Rights Reserved
Professor Bahtiye Mursaloglu, who pioneered scientific research and conservation studies on the endangered Mediterranean monk seal in Turkey, died on 8 February 1999 in Ankara.
Mursaloglu was born in 1918 in Bolu, Turkey, the fourth of five daughters of a farmer and hunter. Her father had always expected his wife to bear him a son, and after having three daughters in succession, he was sure his wish would finally be fulfilled. He therefore decided upon the boy’s name ‘Bahtiyar’ which means ‘happy’ in Turkish, but after another daughter was delivered, her father, with some desperation, changed the name into ‘Bahtiye’, given to girls. As young Bahtiye grew, her father became increasingly proud of her, and of her accomplishments in life. After completing primary and high schools in Bolu and Istanbul respectively, where she consistently achieved high grades, Mursaloglu embarked upon a scientific career in agriculture. In 1935 she enrolled in the Ankara Advanced Agriculture Institute and graduated with honours in 1939. She continued her academic studies at the same Institute until 1942, and then embarked upon her first zoological research as an assistant in the Zoology Department, where she received her Ph.D. on mole rats (Spalax) in 1947. Mursaloglu was then transferred to the newly established Zoology Department of the Science Faculty of Ankara University, where she was appointed as an Associate Professor in 1951. She continued her post-doctorate studies in Kansas University, USA with Prof. E.R. Hall for a period of 18 months in 1960-61. Meanwhile, in the early 1960s, she started her first studies of the Mediterranean monk seal in Turkey, examining and taxonomically comparing, five dead and living specimens from Zonguldak (Black Sea), Canakkale (Aegean), Mersin (Mediterranean) and Ankara Zoo. Her conclusion that the species was Monachus monachus is considered the first scientific confirmation of the occurrence of Mediterranean monk seals on Turkish coasts.
In 1965, she achieved her professorship at Ankara University with her study of the Asia Minor souslik, Citellus turcicus. She continued her studies at Kansas University with a Fullbright Scholarship, and received her full professorship there in 1965-66. At the British Natural History Museum in London in 1974, she made comparative research studies on Rodentia that had been collected in Turkey. She retired from the Ankara University Science Faculty in 1989.
Mursaloglu relaunched her studies on Mediterranean monk seals in March 1979, and for 14 years – sometimes on her own and sometimes with the help of assistants – carried out field surveys and in situ research along Turkish coasts, ranging from in-cave behavioural observations to interviews in fishing communities. For most of her research she depended upon her own private funds and equipment, although she sometimes received the support of Turkish organizations – such as the Turkish Scientific and Technical Research Council (TUBITAK), Ankara University and the Society for Protection of Turkey’s Nature (TTKD) – and also international bodies, such as WWF and IUCN. She always suffered from insufficient finance and equipment, as well as a lack of interested biologists to assist her in her field studies of Mediterranean monk seals. Mursaloglu’s only daughter, Ms. Burcin Erol, acted as one of her assistants, and also helped her mother in organizing the Third International Monk Seal Conference.
During the second phase of her research, she became the first scientist to conduct systematic observations inside a monk seal cave, in the Izmir region. Between June 1980 and February 1981, this research was carried out day and night under arduous and dangerous conditions. The cave was inhabited regularly or at intervals by seven monk seals, allowing Mursaloglu to record her groundbreaking observations of mother-pup relations in a long-term study.
Her recording of a monk seal pup’s interaction with its mother and environment – including its cave habitat, the sea, other seals and humans – provided, for the first time, valuable information on these issues to scientists and conservationists. More depressingly, Mursaloglu also had the opportunity to observe firsthand, the changing fortunes of the species along Turkish coasts. When she returned to the same cave in the early 1990s, for example, she could find only a single seal (Mursaloglu, pers. comm., 1993), despite its remoteness from human activity. She had long realized, both as an academic and as a first-hand witness, how monk seals were declining day by day along Turkish coasts. She put great effort into publicising the plight of the species and its importance to Turkey with articles and news reports based on her studies. She also convened the Third International Monk Seal Conference, held in Antalya in November 1987.
In September of the same year, Mursaloglu granted us our first interview, and at her office in Ankara University, she began to introduce us to her wide knowledge and field experience of monk seals. From that point up until her death, she became a trusted advisor of AFAG, and also provided expert advice during meetings of the Turkish National Monk Seal Committee. Our informal meetings mainly took place in the ‘Monk’s Vineyard’, an old and small green park, located near her house in Ankara. During these long discussions over tea, she’d chat with us about her monk seal field work, providing detailed insights into her methods and findings, and the serious obstacles she had faced. She also reminisced about the early years of her life when the Turkish Republic was being born, and how Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, had impressed her and others among her generation, boosting their studies in science.
She tended to be rather selective in her scientific collaborations with others, and preferred to work with Turkish conservationists. In 1997, as her final contribution to such efforts, she acted as scientific advisor to AFAG’s UNDP-GEF-funded project, Status of the Mediterranean Monk Seal along the Central Black Sea Coasts of Turkey.
Her concern and sensitivity towards monk seals, and especially pups, contrasted markedly with her dauntless reputation. A couple of times during our meetings at the Monk’s Vineyard, she told us of an incident involving a seal pup and herself, that took place during her study into mother-pup relations on the Aegean coast. She saw the pup on a pebble beach in a remote corner of the cave, while its mother and other seals were absent. The pup, apparently hungry and wanting to suckle, started to cry, and Mursaloglu looked on with pity. Though successfully resisting the temptation to hold and touch the animal, the pup realized her presence in the cave and started to move towards her.
Reluctantly, she repelled the pup with a stick, trying to give the message that all young monk seals must learn if they are to survive: "baby, don’t approach humans, you will be hurt or killed..." The pup kept its distance from Mursaloglu, at first crying but then falling asleep (Bahtiye Mursaloglu, pers. comm., 1991). Her story was vivid and told with great emotion. It was almost as if we were in the cave together as she faced this dilemma with the pup.
To Mursaloglu, habitat protection was perhaps the greatest issue at stake in the survival of the Mediterranean monk seal. In her article, How To Save the Monk Seal, she wrote:
"Today, the enemy of monk seals is not only the fishermen, but all those who invade and ruin their habitats… Finally, I wonder where we should put the monk seals that have been removed from their natural habitat, and are being kept in some aquarium, if they happen to have success in reproduction – what shall we do with these poor creatures whose habitats have already been almost completely ruined? Why are we trying to breed them in captivity instead of trying to help them to breed in their own natural, undisturbed habitats, where they are still leading a natural life today?"
Apart from her accomplishments in zoology, Mursaloglu was also a serious and successful sportswoman. During the 1942-1952 period, she won the Turkish shooting championship, and also became a national champion in skiing several times. As a national tennis champion, she also represented Turkey on more than 60 occasions in the international games. In 1951, she was invited to Paris for an international tennis tournament, where she was ranked third.
She spoke English, German and French. She was a member of the Mammalogy Society of the USA, the Society for the Protection of Turkey’s Nature (TTKD), and the Turkish Society for Biology. She won the annual ‘Researcher Performance Prize’ in 1996, awarded by the Turkish Underwater Research Society (SAD).
Prof. Bahtiye Mursaloglu’s advice, her field research, published papers and other conservation initiatives were an inspiration to us in forming AFAG in 1987. She will always be remembered in our minds as the perfect example of a dedicated scientist and monk seal conservationist.
My first meeting with Dr. Baytihe Mursaloglu was around a swimming pool in Istanbul, where we were discussing the pitiful status of Monachus monachus. I had just completed an intensive survey of all the Dodecanese and she had discovered some suitable caves on the Turkish coast. I was immediately impressed by her intense desire to "do something for the species" and her drive to achieve that end. We went swimming to cool off from the August heat, and in the water she had all the power and grace of a seal.
Later, we met in Rhodes at the First International Conference on Monachus. Her individual drive had led her to start a behavioural experiment that demanded intense physical activity and a dangerous trip along the sea cliffs. I joined her on one of these expeditions, and here again we were working above and in the water under difficult conditions.
Our third encounter was under very different circumstances. Although we again met at an Istanbul pool, we were planning to approach one of the city’s most wealthy industrialists. Once again, the Mursaloglu drive was at full pitch, and we achieved the support she needed.
My memories of her are still clear. Professor Mursaloglu was totally committed to conserving the highly endangered Mediterranean monk seal. She, and a few others, formed the skeleton of what has grown into a much larger body dedicated to the seal’s survival. It should also not be forgotten that the scientific backbone of Turkish conservation was initially hers.
She lived in a water-world. She will be missed, and yet her inspiration to other Turkish scientists will hopefully mean that her energy and accomplishments are not lost.
Professor Keith Ronald
Co-chairman, 1st & 2nd International Conference on the Mediterranean Monk Seal
Bahtiye Mursaloglu took a tough approach in tackling the sad plight of her beloved monk seals. Instead of only sympathising with their fate and studying them for the sake of science, she made herself one of them and became the speaker of their rights in the human world.
She was our natural role model. We, the younger generation, always admired her positive mind. She encouraged us to persevere, and most important of all, she inspired us, helping us to pull ourselves together when we were sad or demoralised.
We have lost a friend. But what reassures us is that, before she died, she knew that her ideals for a better world were in good hands. She believed in us as we believed in her. She will stay in our hearts forever, and we will keep carrying the light she started so long ago...
Cem O. Kiraç & Ilksen D. Bas
Monk Seal Publications by Bahtiye Mursaloglu
1964. Occurrence of the Monk Seal on the Turkish Coasts, Journal of Mammalogy 45(2), pp. 316-317. May 20, 1964, Baltimore, USA.
1980. The Recent Status and Distribution of Turkish Furbearers. Proceedings of the Worldwide Furbearer Conference, Frostburg, Maryland, 1980. pp. 86-94.
1980. Kiyilarimizdaki foklarin Monachus monachus bugünkü durumlari (The current status of monk seal Monachus monachus on our coasts). Proceedings of TUBITAK. Sixth Science Congress, p. 83-92 (in Turkish).
1981. Ayibaliginda Monachus monachus Yavru-ana-çevre Iliskileri (Pup-mother-environment relation in the Mediterranean Monk Seal Monachus monachus), Abstract. Proceedings of National Marine and Freshwater Research Congress, p.40 (in Turkish).
1982. Türkiye Deniz Memelileri (Marine Mammals in Turkey), Proceedings of TUBITAK Seventh Science Congress, 6 October 1980. pp. 241-244 (in Turkish).
1984a. The Mediterranean Seals, Newspot Turkish Digest, p.8, 20 April 1984, Ankara.
1984b. The Monk Seal Conservation in Turkey, WWF Monthly report, pp.97-100. May 1984.
1984c. The Survival of Mediterranean Monk Seal Monachus monachus pup on Turkish coast, Proceedings of the Second International Monk Seal Conference, 5-6 October, La Rochelle, France, pp. 41-47.
1984d. Ege Kiyilarinda Son Akdeniz Foklarinin Monachus monachus Yasama Sanslari. (The Survival Chance of the Last Monk Seals on Aegean Coasts). Symposium on Conservation of the Aegean Sea and Related Coasts, 28-29 November 1984, Izmir. (in Turkish).
1986. Pup-Mother-Environment Relations in the Mediterranean Monk Seal, Monachus monachus (Hermann, 1779), on Turkish Coasts. Commun. Fac. Sci. Univ. Ankara. Ser. C.5:4. pp. 1-8.
1988. How to Save the Monk Seal, Commun. Fac. Sci. Univ. Ankara, Series C. Vol.6, pp.227-233.
1992. Biology and Distribution of the Mediterranean Monk Seal Monachus monachus on Turkish Coasts, Council of Europe Conservation of the Mediterranean Monk Seal, Technical and Scientific Aspects. Antalya, Turkey. May 1991, pp. 54-57.
Prof Dr. Bahtiye Mursaloglu's Land Rover 4x4 used during almost all her research studies has been donated to SAD-AFAG to commemorate the research done by her and to serve the research and conservation efforts still carried out for the monk seals conducted by the foundation.
The legendary 1969-model Land Rover Link to the original text