Mediterranean Monk Seal
(Monachus monachus)
Monk seals are so-named because their uniform brown or greyish coats supposedly resemble a monk’s robes. They were revered by the ancient Greeks, who believed that seeing a monk seal was a good omen. They featured in the writings of Homer and Aristotle, and were even depicted on one of the first coins ever produced, around 500 BC. Although monk seals were always hunted for their fur, oil and meat, it was not until commercial exploitation began during the Middle Ages that the species began to decline. Today, it is regarded as the world’s most endangered marine mammal, and drastic conservation measures are needed to prevent it from becoming extinct.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Surveys to determine status and distribution and work with local people to develop alternative fishing techniques.
Scattered populations in coastal waters of the Mediterranean and north-east Atlantic.
Associated Blog Posts
14th Jan 11
A new colony of EDGE mammal number 25 the Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) has been found in a remote, secret location in Greece. This colony i...  Read

Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Carnivora
Family: Phocidae
The earliest known pinnipeds first appeared in the fossil record about 23 million years ago. Monachines were the dominant seals of the North Atlantic during the late Miocene and Pliocene. The oldest known fossil monachines lived about 14.5 million years ago. These animals are thought to be the ancestors of the species in the genus Monachus. There are three recent species of monk seal: M. monachus (Mediterranean monk seal), M. schauinslandi (Hawaiian monk seal), and the recently extinct M. tropicalis (Caribbean monk seal).
Length: 2.35-2.78 m
Weight: 250-300 kg
This large seal is so-named because its uniform brown or greyish coat supposedly resembles a monk’s robe. The underside of the animal is generally paler, with a whitish grey patch featuring on the belly of some individuals. Older males tend to be black. Unlike the Caribbean and Hawaiian monk seals, Mediterranean monk seal pups have a black woolly coat and a white or yellow patch on the belly. They molt at about 4-6 weeks and their black coat is replaced by a silvery-grey coat that darkens with age.
A diurnal species, the Mediterranean monk seal spends its days foraging for food in shallow coastal waters. It feeds on a variety of fish (including eels, sardines, tuna, lobsters, flatfish and mullets) and cephalopods (squid and octopus). The species is believed to be relatively sedentary, spending most of its time within a limited range. It does not migrate long distances. Monk seals reproduce slowly, and sexual maturity is not reached until around 4-6 years. Mating occurs underwater, usually during October and November. After a gestation period of eleven months, females come ashore to give birth to a single pup in a cave or on a deserted beach. The pups are weaned after four months, but often remain with their mothers for up to three years. The social organisation of this species is not known, although groups tend to form in breeding caves. Individuals are thought to live for around 20-30 years in the wild.
Usually found in warm coastal waters, this species is thought to have used open sandy beaches to haul out and breed in the past. Increasing human presence over the last few thousand years appears to have changed the habitat preferences of the species. It now utilises inaccessible rocky coasts and remote caves, often with underwater entrances.
Formerly widespread throughout the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the northwest coast of Africa. The species is now thought to be extinct in the Black Sea, and is present as only small, scattered populations in remote and undisturbed areas of the Mediterranean Sea, on islands in the Adriatic Sea and Aegean Sea, on Madeira (Desertas Islands), the Atlantic coast of Morocco, and Mauritania/Western Sahara.
Population Estimate
The population is critically low. It is thought to number between just 400 and 500 individuals.
Population Trend
Classified as Critically Endangered A2abc; C2a(i); E on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Deaths have occurred through entanglement with fishing lines and as a result of direct persecution by fishermen who perceive the species as a competitor for fish. More recently, overfishing by trawlers has led to a lack of food resources, which may be compounding this problem. The species is very sensitive to disturbance and has lost most of its beach habitat to development and tourism. Most seals now haul out in remote caves to give birth, which may afford some protection from disturbance, but result in higher pup mortality due to stormy weather, accumulated pollution, and collapsing cave roofs. In 1997 two-thirds of the largest surviving population of Mediterranean monk seals were wiped out in just two months at Cap Blanc, Mauritania. The deaths are believed to have been due to either disease or as a result of the accumulation of toxins in fish following toxic algal blooms.
Conservation Underway
The species is listed on Appendix I of CITES and Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS, or Bonn Convention). Conservation of the monk seal is difficult because its range spans a number of countries in Europe and North Africa. However, various national laws and species survival programmes are in place with the aim of protecting the species. WWF is currently working with organisations in Greece, Turkey and Mauritania to increase fish stocks and protect monk seal habitat. Several reserves and no-fishing zones have been created around monk seal habitat, and various education programmes have been implemented with the aim of increasing public awareness of monk seal conservation. The Desertas Islands Natural Reserve and the National Marine Park of Alonnissos Northern Sporades in Greece were established as protected areas, and in 2001 Mauritania announced that it is to ban all fishing, except traditional non-motorised fishing by local communities, in the 12,000 km² coastal wetland covered by the boundaries of the Banc d'Arguin National Park. Enforcing laws that prevent trawlers from fishing in coastal areas will aid in the recovery of fish stocks and help reduce the conflict between fishermen and monk seals. Monitoring of the species and its habitats is being carried out on an ongoing basis and stranded or orphaned pups are rescued and rehabilitated whenever possible. There is disagreement among biologists about whether captive breeding is a suitable conservation measure for this species. Monk seals do not survive well in captivity. The French government initiated experimental captive breeding projects for the species in 1985, and again in 1994. However, both were abandoned following protests from the international monk seal scientific and conservation communities.
Conservation Proposed
The long-term survival of this species is dependent on the conservation of a healthy marine and coastal environment. The IUCN/SSC Seal Specialist Group has produced a Conservation Action Plan for the species, which aims to determine its distribution and status, and involve local fishermen in its protection. If social and economic incentives such as alternative fishing techniques and aquaculture are developed, then these might alter the attitudes of the fishermen towards the seals and eliminate deliberate killing. The Action Plan also recommends the development of a captive breeding programme for the species. However, there are grave concerns about the risks involved in removing individuals from wild populations to supply a captive breeding programme. Experts argue that seals could be harmed or killed during the capture operation and that any disturbance to the colony may affect breeding in the wild.
Associated EDGE Community members

Rosa is a conservationist working to conserve the Mediterranean Monk Seal

Monachus is an internet site dedicated to the monk seal. It highlights current research into this species and provides a platform for concerned conservationists to canvas awareness and highlight important conservation actions.

MOm/Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk Seal

Seal Conservation Society
The SCS focuses on the protection of all seals by promoting the conservation, welfare and study of this species. The SCS is involved in the dissemination of conservation education, monitoring seal populations and creating conservation networks.

Aguilar, A. & Lowry, L. 2008. Monachus monachus. In: 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. Downloaded on 12 November 2010.

Nowak, R.M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Reijnders, P., Brasseur, S., van der Toorn, J., van der Wolf, P., Boyd, I., Harwood, J., Lavigne, D. and Lowry, L. 1993. Seals, Fur Seals, Sea Lions and Walrus: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN Gland, Switzerland.

ARKive. (Sep 2005).

Levant Nature Conservation Society: Klzillman Marine Protected Area and Mediterranean Monk Seal Research Project

MOm/Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk Seal


Seal Conservation Society

WWF: Protecting monk seal habitats in Turkey

">">http://www.panda.org/news_facts/newsroom/features/index.cfm?uNewsID=9067&uLangID=1" WWF: Guardians of the monk seals

Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment.

if you can provide new information to update this species account or to correct any errors, please email us at info@edgeofexistence.org

Forum comments
  1. Anonymous


    Posted 8 years ago #
  2. Anonymous

    seals are cool! we should help them!=}

    Posted 8 years ago #

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