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135. Mediterranean Monk Seal

Monachus monachus


Monk seals are so-named because their uniform brown or greyish coats supposedly resemble a monk’s robes.

These animals were revered by the ancient Greeks, who believed that seeing a monk seal was a good omen and a sign of luck. They featured in the writings of Homer and Aristotle, and depicted on one of the first coins ever produced, around 500 BC.

Commercial exploitation in the middle ages for their fur, oil and meat has led to their mass decline, and they are now regarded as the world’s most endangered marine mammal. This once abundant species has become regionally extinct from many Mediterranean countries such as Spain and Italy and the majority of its population decline occurred more than three generations ago.

This species is protected throughout its range through many national and European laws. There has been action to protect breeding caves and to restrict fishing gear and relocate the most adverse fishing practices. An action plan for their recovery has been implemented and the population has begun to increase.

  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Phocidae
  • Population: 250-350
  • Trend: increasing
  • Size: 2.3-2.8m
  • Weight: 240-300kg

EDGE Score

EDGE Score: 4.96 (?)
ED Score: 16.81 (?)
GE / IUCN Red List (?)
Not Evaluated Data Deficient Least Concern Near Threatened Vulnerable Endangered Critically Endangered Extinct in the Wild Extinct


This species is found throughout the Mediterranean and Black Seas, found in countries such as Portugal, Croatia, Morocco and Turkey.

Habitat and Ecology

This species use marine caves with sea entrances for hauling out, resting and pupping throughout their range. They have been observed to also haul out onto open beaches. They prefer warm coastal waters and spend their days foraging for food in the shallower waters. They eat a variety of fish, cephalopods and macroinvertebrates.

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Conservation Actions

For each key category of conservation action, we calculated a conservation attention score based on expert information. In this graph, a higher score means the action is being carried out more intensively over more of the species range. The colour shows how important each action is considered to be for the conservation of this species.

Engaging stakeholders
Addressing threats
Status of knowledge
Management plan
Capacity building
Behaviour change
Awareness raising
  Score: 100 means the activity occurs at high level across more than 75% of the species range
Very Low

Overall Conservation Attention

We combined all of the expert information on conservation actions to calculate an overall conservation attention score for this species. Please help us to reach our goal of establishing dedicated conservation attention at “High” levels for all EDGE species.

Very Low Low Medium High

More information

Recent studies have grouped all possible conservation activities for any species into nine key categories (Washington et. al 2015). For each action, we asked experts for each species to assess the extent to which that action is being carried out and how much of the species’ range that action occurs in. For each action we used these two pieces of information to calculate the conservation attention score per action. A score of 100 means that the action is being carried out to a high level across at least 75% of the species range. We then combined the scores for all actions into an overall conservation attention score for the species. The experts also judged how important each category was to the conservation of that particular species.

This wordcloud illustrates the threats facing this species. The size of each word indicates the extent of a species range that is affected by that threat (larger size means a greater area is affected). The colour of the word indicates how much that threat impacts the species (darker shades of red mean the threat is more severe).

Urban development Industrial development Tourism Habitat change Shipping Fishing Fishing Recreation Wars Ecosystem changes Invasive species Native species Unknown diseases Wastewater Industry Industry Agriculture

Threat wordcloud key:

Small area affected
Large area affected
Least severe
Most severe
Severity unknown
Source: The IUCN List of Threatened Species. Version 2017.1.
Available at:

Download the survival blueprint for this species below. Each survival blueprint is compiled by an EDGE fellow working on the species with input from collaborators and stakeholders. The survival blueprint provides a status review (information on the distribution, protection status, habitat & ecology, threat and stakeholder analysis) and more information on the action programme listed here. 

Vision (30-50 years)

The ecological recovery of monk seals in the Mediterranean will occur, when multiple colonies have maintained within all major habitats of their historic range, interacting with other species in ecologically significant ways, and inspiring and connecting human cultures.

Goal (5-10 years)

Improve the status of the Mediterranean monk seal by improving protectionaround the breeding coastal caves and improving collaborative co-ordinated response through an alert network


Critical breeding habitats are identified and prioritized within the next five years. Critical
The areas containing monk seal critical breeding habitats are legally protected and organised into a functional network of protected areas Critical
Monk seal conservation measures are legally adopted and effectively implemented Critical
Reduce human-caused monk seal mortality within the next eight years. Critical
Within the next two to three years, bioecological knowledge relevant for the species conservation is obtained. High
Reduce in more than 50% illegal fishing activities within No-Fishing zones in the next ten years. High
Strengthen international collaboration on Mediterranean monk seal within the next ten years. High
Encourage public support for the proposed conservation actions for the protection of the Mediterranean monk seal within the next eight years. High
Establish one rescue and rehabilitation centre on each country of the species range within the next ten years. Medium

Ezgi Saydam

  • Project name: Assessment of the Mediterranean monk seal, Monachus monachus, population and habitats in Gokova Special Environmental Protection Area
  • Project site: Gokova Bay, Turkey
  • Active: 2016 - 2018
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