Monachus Monachus

Seal

The Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus, was named after the sarcoid in the back of its head, assembling to the cowl of Romeo-Catholic Franciscan monks and/or because it does not like living in large groups preferring solitude and isolation from human presence.

It is represented on ancient Greek coins and passages in Homer describe it basking in the sun on sandy beaches. However, nowadays the monk seal is considered as the number one endangered species of the European fauna.

 

In the old times, the monk seal was widely spread along the coasts of the Mediterranean, Black Sea, and the Atlantic coast of Morocco and Mauritania. Over time and due to the various pressures posed on the animal and its habitat, it has become extinct in more than 10 countries during the last 20 years. To accurately assess the number of remaining individuals is very difficult, as its populations are dispersed and existing data is still limited. Generally, it is estimated that only 400-500 individuals survive today. Many scientists believe that Greece holds at least 2/3 of the total remaining monk seal population. On the North Atlantic coast of Mauritania (Cap Blanc) the monk seal population is estimated to be 100-150 animals, a population which for the last few years is under a serious threat due to a virus epidemic. Smaller populations are scattered along the coasts of Madeira, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Croatia, Albania, Black Sea, Turkey and Cyprus.

Piperi pup

The monk seal is one of the largest seal species in the world with a length of 2-3 metres and an average weight around 250 kg. The females mature when they are 3-4 years old, whereas the males a little bit later. They live up to 30-45 years.

The seal’s body is covered by short, sleek coat of fair grey, brown or black colour and a lighter colour underneath it. Newborn pups are about a metre long and weigh 15-20 kg. They have a black coat wool-like fur with a white patch on its abdomen. There are no significant differences between males and females.

Gestation lasts about 10 to 11 months and births occur mostly between May and November, with a peak in September - October. Lactation period lasts about 4 to 8 weeks. Because the gestation and lactation period is long the births usually occur every other year.

Seal lying

The monk seal usually gives birth to only one pup each time. Nowadays, births mainly take place in caves. This was not always the case in the past, but only since the monk seal was forced to abandon the sandy beaches due to the increased disturbance caused by human activities. Within a few weeks after their birth the pups are able to dive and swim but they can not swim well during the first days of their life. The life span of the monk seal although not scientifically proven, has been estimated to be around 35 to 40 years.

The monk seals seem to be opportunistic predators, feeding on all kind of fishes and cephalopods which abound in the area where they live. An adult seal is estimated to consume 5-10% of its body weight per day. In order to find food they attack fishing nets, follow fishing boats or follow the migration routes of fish.

Seal Ag. Theodoros

The main threats to the monk seal are:

a. Increased adult and Juvenile mortality caused by deliberate killing: In the past, seals have been hunted intensively for its fat and skin. Today, it is often considered to be a natural competitor of fishermen and sometimes does indeed damage their nets to "steal" food. Fish stocks are diminishing continually due to overfishing as well as other illegal practices. This competition for the available food resources is the main reason for seals being killed from time to time in Greece, despite the barbarity of the practice, though the frequency of such deaths fortunately appears to be decreasing. It is noteworthy that in the area of the NMPANS no such incident has been reported during the past few years.

b. Increased pup mortality due to loss of suitable habitat: Monk seals in the past were giving birth to their pups on open beaches and big caves. Today, due to human activities (tourism, summer houses, ports, roads etc.), the animals have been forced to pup on beaches within caves. The pup mortality in such caves is higher than on open beaches due to the fact that inexperienced pups can be easily injured or drowned by waves during severe storms.

c. Increased adult and juvenile mortality caused by incidental entanglement in fishing gear: Incidental mortality, mainly by drowning, is a concern throughout the Mediterranean. Monk seals can become entangled in all kinds of fishing gear, but mostly in static fishing nets.

 

 
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