Animal Info - Mediterranean Monk Seal

(Other Names: Phoque-moine Méditerranéen)

Monachus monachus

Status: Critically Endangered


Contents

1. Profile (Picture)
2. Tidbits
3. Status and Trends (IUCN Status, Countries Where Currently Found, Population Estimates, History of Distribution, Threats and Reasons for Decline)
4. Data on Biology and Ecology (Size and Weight, Habitat, Age to Maturity, Birth Season, Birth Rate, Early Development, Dispersal, Maximum Age, Diet, Behavior, Social Organization)
5. References


Profile

Pictures: Mediterranean Monk Seal #1 (39 Kb JPEG); Mediterranean Monk Seal #2 (12 Kb GIF); Mediterranean Monk Seal #3 (22 Kb GIF)

The coat of the Mediterranean monk seal is usually brown or gray on its back and lighter on its belly. A white patch is common on the belly, and other irregular light patches are not uncommon. The head-to-tail length of the Mediterranean monk seal is about 240 cm (8' 2"). Females weigh about 300 kg (660 lb) and males weigh about 315 kg (690 lb).  

The Mediterranean monk seal is a coastal species. In recent times, it has used caves for rest and reproduction rather than the beaches it used historically. Cave usage seems to be a response to human persecution. The Mediterranean monk seal feeds on a variety of fish and cephalopods. It is active during the day. Virtually all births currently occur in caves and grottoes in sea cliffs. 

The Mediterranean monk seal occurs in groups or "colonies". The largest colonies have occurred on the Atlantic coast of northwest Africa, with one colony including as many as 300 seals at one point. The remainder of the seals have been dispersed through the Mediterranean and Black Seas in a number of much smaller colonies, usually including about 5 - 6 individuals (up to about 20 individuals) each. 

The Mediterranean monk seal used to be an abundant species. Its former range extended from the coasts of the Black and Adriatic Seas through the entire Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean and the northwest coasts of Africa as far south as Senegal. The Mediterranean monk seal is now restricted to a handful of small and scattered colonies in the Ionian and Aegean Seas and the southern coast of Turkey in the Mediterranean, as well as scattered populations in northwest Africa on the coasts of Western Sahara and Mauritania, and the Desertas Islands, Madeira. It is thought that just two of these populations are viable, in Greece and northwest Africa. 

Hunting for its skin prior to this century reduced the population considerably. More recently, the main threats facing the Mediterranean monk seal are deliberate killing by fishermen who perceive the species as a competitor for fish, entanglement in fishing gear, disturbance and habitat loss through development and tourism (including recreational diving), disease, and the effects of toxic algal blooms. 


Tidbits

*** The Mediterranean monk seal is one of the world's rarest mammals.

*** The Mediterranean monk seal was one of 14 mammals listed as "in need of emergency action if they are to be saved from extinction" by the International Union for the Protection of Nature (as the IUCN was then called) at its first technical conference in 1949 (Fitter 1974b).

*** Monk seals are the only pinnipeds that live in warm, subtropical seas. (Macdonald 2001)  

*** One of the difficulties in addressing the conservation of the Mediterranean monk seal is its situation involving so many countries that have mutual political, economic and other social problems.

*** Many countries have introduced laws protecting the Mediterranean monk seal in the last 30 years. Thus, in theory the protection of the monk seal has been much improved. But, implementation of these laws usually leaves much to be desired. In reality therefore, little has changed (Israels 1992).


Status and Trends

IUCN Status:

Countries Where the Mediterranean Monk Seal Is Currently Found:

2006: Occurs in the waters and coasts of Algeria, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Portugal (Madeira, Desertas Islands), Romania, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Spain (Canary Islands), Tunisia and Turkey. May be extinct in Albania, Cyprus, Georgia, Lebanon, Syria and Ukraine. (IUCN 2006)

Population Estimates:

[Note: Figures given are for wild populations only.]

History of Distribution:

The Mediterranean monk seal used to be an abundant species. Its former range extended from the coasts of the Black and Adriatic Seas through the entire Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean around Madeira, the Canary Islands, and the northwest coasts of Africa as far south as Cap Blanc. Monk seals were even observed in Senegal (Israels 1992). By 1966 it had been reduced to 20 - 30 small colonies scattered throughout its original range (IUCN 1966). It formerly hauled out on sandy and rocky beaches as well as in caves. Now it is confined to remote and undisturbed areas where it breeds in caves. (Reijnders et al. 1993) 

In 1978, the distribution of the Mediterranean monk seal was described as follows: "The main center of population of the species is the Aegean Sea, especially its southern and eastern part, in the Dodecanese Islands of Greece and adjacent coasts of Turkey. This distribution extends in lesser numbers of animals north to the Cyclades, the northern Sporades and the Sea of Marmara, west towards Crete, the Peloponnesus and the Ionian Sea, and east along the western part of the southern coast of Turkey. The second, lesser concentration within the Mediterranean Sea lies along the southern coasts of the western basin, from the Mediterranean coast of Morocco along the Algerian coast to Tunisia. A few animals remain at the Balearic Islands, Sardinia, the Tyrrhenian Sea and Sicily, but the species is extinct or nearly so at Corsica. A third, minor concentration exists in the eastern Mediterranean in south-central Turkey, around the coasts of Cyprus, and on the Lebanese coast. The Atlantic population exists in discrete, widely separated populations at the Desertas Islands, rarely at the main island of Madeira, and in southern Spanish Sahara [Mauritania]. There are a few recent records from the Azores." (Sergeant et al. 1978)

In 1997, a severe mass mortality affected the Cap Blanc Mediterranean monk seal colony off the coast of Mauritania. The exact cause is unknown, but a viral epidemic and poisoning by toxic algae are the most likely candidates. The Cap Blanc colony was the largest population of Mediterranean monk seals. (Macdonald 2001) 

The Mediterranean monk seal is now restricted to a handful of small and scattered colonies in the Ionian and Aegean Seas and the southern coast of Turkey in the Mediterranean, as well as scattered populations in northwest Africa on the coasts of Western Sahara and Mauritania, and the Desertas Islands, Madeira. It is thought that just two of these populations are viable, in Greece and northwest Africa. (Arkive 2006)

Distribution Map (28 Kb GIF) (Monachus.org) 

Threats and Reasons for Decline:

The Mediterranean monk seal is very sensitive to disturbance, especially pregnant females which will often abort when disturbed. It is also vulnerable due to its long lactation period and the pup's dependence on its mother during this time. The pup-mother bond can be easily broken, especially during the first 3-4 weeks after birth. (Israels 1992).

The main threats facing the Mediterranean monk seal are deliberate killing by fishermen who perceive the species as a competitor for fish, entanglement in fishing gear, disturbance and habitat loss through development and tourism (including recreational diving), disease, and the effects of toxic algal blooms. (Arkive 2006)


Data on Biology and Ecology

Size and Weight:

The head-to-tail length of the Mediterranean monk seal is about 240 cm (8' 2"). Females weigh about 300 kg (660 lb) and males weigh about 315 kg (690 lb). (Macdonald 2001)  The maximum weight is about 400 kg (880 lb) (Sergeant et al. 1978).

Habitat:

The Mediterranean monk seal is a coastal species. It is usually found on two types of coasts: archipelagoes, especially those with small islands, and cliffbound mainland coastlines. These types of coasts are relatively inaccessible or unattractive to man. Historical descriptions show that the use of open beaches was normal until the 18th century. However, more recently the Mediterranean monk seal has used caves for rest ("haulout") and reproduction. Cave usage seems to be a response to human persecution. Caves utilized by the Mediterranean monk seal usually possess a single entrance above water that leads through an entrance corridor to a beach. Depending on the state of the tide and the nature of the cave, beaches inside can be either under or above water during high tide, and are covered by sand, pebbles or rocks. Caves with a protected beach during the weaning period appear to be essential for the survival of newborn pups. (Sergeant et al. 1978, Israels 1992, Karamanlidis et al. 2004)

The Mediterranean monk seal is one of the species that live in both the Mediterranean Basin Biodiversity Hotspot (Cons. Intl.) and the Mediterranean Sea Global 200 Ecoregion. (Olson & Dinerstein 1998, Olson & Dinerstein 1999)

Age to Maturity:

Sexual maturity of females and males is probably reached after 5 - 6 years (Macdonald 2001). One 4 year old female was observed to be sexually mature (Reijnders et al. 1993).

Birth Season:

Mating occurs between September and November (Arkive 2006).  Most births occur in September - October (Macdonald 2001).

Birth Rate:

A female Mediterranean monk seal gives birth to a single pup (Macdonald 2001).

Early Development:

Weaning usually occurs after 5 - 6 weeks, but it might not occur until after up to 17 weeks at Turkish sites (Macdonald 2001)

Dispersal:

The female Mediterranean monk seal will remain with her pup for up to three years (Arkive 2006).

Maximum Age:

20 - 30 years (Macdonald 2001).

Diet:

The Mediterranean monk seal feeds on a variety of fish (such as eels, sardines, and tuna) and cephalopods (such as squid and octopus) (Burnie & Wilson 2001, Arkive 2006).

Behavior:

The Mediterranean monk seal is active during the day (Arkive 2006).

Virtually all births currently occur in caves and grottoes in sea cliffs. Mating occurs in the water. (Macdonald 2001)

Social Organization:

The Mediterranean monk seal occurs in groups or "colonies". The largest colonies have occurred on the Atlantic coast of northwest Africa, with one colony including as many as 300 seals at one point. The remainder of the seals have been dispersed through the Mediterranean and Black Seas in a number of much smaller colonies, usually including about 5 - 6 individuals (up to about 20 individuals) each. (Norris 1972, Israels 1992, Reijnders 1997)

The social organization of individual Mediterranean monk seal colonies is not well known. Groups tend to form in breeding caves. (Arkive 2006).


References

Arkive 2006, Burnie & Wilson 2001, Burton & Pearson 1987, Cons. Intl., Curry-Lindahl 1972, Fitter 1974b, Israels 1992, IUCN 1966, IUCN 1994, IUCN 1996, IUCN 2000, IUCN 2003a, IUCN 2004, IUCN 2006, Karamanlidis et al. 2004, Macdonald 1984, Macdonald 2001, Monachus.org, Norris 1972, Nowak 1999, Nowak & Paradiso 1983, Olson & Dinerstein 1998, Olson & Dinerstein 1999, Oryx 1976f, Oryx 1999, Reijnders et al. 1993, Reijnders 1997, Reijnders 1999, Rice 1964, Seal Cons. Soc., Sergeant et al. 1978, Timm et al. 1997, WCMC/WWF 1997, World Cons. Mon. Ctr.


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Last modified: June 19, 2006;

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