A diver who captured this incredible poignant footage of Kostis, a seal turned mascot of a Greek island, has expressed grief over the creature’s brutal death.
Nikos Vardakas was delighted to be joined by the friendly young monk seal playing happily with him underwater as he and a small group dove on an ancient wreck near Alonissos Island earlier this month.
But tragically, the stunning video – shown here for the first time by MailOnline – would be the last time Kostis was filmed, as a few days later he was brutally killed by a fisherman’s harpoon gun, sending out waves shock among his fans around the world.
A police hunt has now been launched for the culprit and a reward offered by the Greek marine conservation charity Mom, who fed the puppy after he was separated from his mother during a severe storm, Cyclone Zorbas , in 2018 – and saved by a fisherman named Kostis.
Diver Nikos Vardakas was with friends when he captured the latest footage of beloved monk seal Kostis (pictured) days before he was ‘deliberately killed’ off the coast of Alonissos Island
Kostis (pictured) was rescued from a severe storm in 2018 and rose to fame for his friendly demeanor which led the islanders of Alonissos to adopt him as their unofficial mascot.
Kostis became well known and was adopted by the islanders of Alonissos as an unofficial mascot. He captured their hearts in much the same way the octopus did in the hit Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher, showing the remarkable connection between a filmmaker and the underwater creature living in a South African kelp forest.
Dive instructor Nikos, 46, who is also an actor in Greek films and television, said he had never heard of Kostis when he and three friends were 25m under the sea on a old wreck near the island of Peristera, near Alonissos, a fortnight ago.
“I was at the back of the group and suddenly I felt something touch my calf,” he recalls. “I turned around and there was this seal, circling the other way.
All smiles: Kostis the monk seal who has since been killed, triggering a police investigation
“I have done more than 5,000 dives and I have never had such an experience. Dolphins can be friendly, and normally seals are quite shy, but this one was very eager to play and wanted me to answer.
“At first I wasn’t sure if I should push him away, but I honestly felt there was a deep connection. Sometimes he would squeeze my leg with his fins, and at one point we took a selfie together!
“It was like playing with my dog, but the initial approach came entirely from him.
“Then my dive buddy Zoe Pristouri, a novice diver, came back to us and Kostis (as I later found out her name) was playing with her, but very gently, never being aggressive.
“I’ve never seen a seal behave this way before and it was truly magical.
“I want people to see Kostis’ film so that they too can see that he was an animal, with a soul, who was trying to connect with humans in a way that, tragically, humans don’t seem. able to understand. “
The remarkable underwater encounter lasted 20 minutes, and even after the divers returned to the boat, Kostis surfaced to say hello and put his head on the stern of the ship.
Nikos later learned that Kostis was known to research interactions with swimmers, snorkelers, and sailors around the island.
But after Nikos returned home to Athens, a friend drew his attention to the devastating news of Kostis’ disappearance – believed to be in the hands of a fisherman.
Kostis was known to seek interaction with swimmers and snorkelers around the island
People release orphaned monk seal Kostis back into the wild after being treated at rescue center
“I was so upset when I heard he was dead,” Nikos said. “Some of my friends were like, well, it’s just an animal, but that’s not the point. We have connected on a deep level and you can’t just dismiss it that easily.
“To me, it felt like a relationship with a kid who hadn’t grown up yet and who was maybe a little insecure, looking for love. I can’t help but wonder if this innocence made Kostis more vulnerable to whoever killed him.
Monk seals – which reach around 280 kg at maturity – are extremely rare and therefore a protected species, but fishermen blame them for damaging their nets and eating their catch.
It is believed that there are less than 700 Mediterranean monk seals in the wild.
MOm vowed to prosecute the person responsible for Kosti’s death as the association’s Facebook pages were flooded with hundreds of comments calling for the seal killer to be brought to justice.
News of Kostis’ disappearance has been reported across Europe, as well as in the United States and Australia.
MOm condemned his death by offering a reward of £ 12,000 for information on the culprit.
MOm condemned his death by offering a reward of £ 12,000 for information on the culprit
Monk seals like Kostis (photo) are extremely rare and therefore a protected species
They said in a statement: “Sadly, once again, it is proven that human wickedness and stupidity have no limits!
“The innocent and unconscious seal was executed at close range with a harpoon gun with a large spear for exactly this purpose!”
‘This news was received with great sorrow and outraged not only the inhabitants of MOm (who cared for Kostis for several months during his rehabilitation), but also all the inhabitants and visitors of Alonnisos who had the chance to admire ‘Kostis’ up close.
“We call on the relevant authorities to take immediate action to bring to justice the person or persons responsible for this barbaric act.
“Any citizen who has information about the incident should immediately contact the port police authorities. “
To donate to the work of MOm, visit: https://www.mom.gr/home