The initial population of monk seals extended over the whole Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, and part of the Atlantic Coast (Morocco, West Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, and the islands of Madeira, Canary and Green Cape) they were really abundant and formed vast colonies.
A number of proper names of places in the area make reference to the species that can be found still at present in the places where it used to be seen, where it raised its offspring, went to sail for food, or went for a rest: The Coast of Seals, Cow Cave, etc.
In the area of Cadaqu és between the firehouse of Cala Nans and the Figuera Point, we find the cave of Vell Marí, which was inhabited by a group of these animals until some years ago.
In several locations in Cap de Creus and on the Catalonian coast there are caves that used to be inhabited by monk seals in the past.Females give birth to an only child (occasionally two)every twelve-month reproductive season, and it is the mother that takes care of the offspring until it is four months old, and its nutrition starts consisting of solid food when it learns how to hunt.
During that period they are breast fed, mothers may leave them by themselves for a short while in the reproduction caves, as they go to the sea for food. Males have no intervention in the care of little monk seals, nor help females to get food.
The reproductive strategy of the species seems to fit into the scheme of a pattern in which a dominant male has a group of females to which he stops from accessing other males.
However, it has been observed that, when they are resting on the beach, males can be together, and no aggressive behaviour occurs among them. Males defend their well-delimited water territories together, which might occur for food and /or reproductive reasons.
The diet of a monk seal is mainly fish, octopus, lobster, Dicentrarchus punctatus, and mugils. It has been estimated that an adult animal needs about 15-20 kilos of food per day.
An Endangered Species Monk seal populations, especially those in the Atlantic Ocean, were highly exploited from the times of the colonization of America, when ships made a stopp by on the isles where seals were reproducing and breast feeding, and filed their ship warehouses of seal meat and fat for their long journey.
During the 20th century the causes that have led to monk seal to the verge of extinction have been varied. On the one hand they were the object of fishermens guns, traps, and explosive's, as they thought that monk seals were responsible for the reduction of fish banks, when in fact it was them who were causing that reduction, because of the overexploitation of resources brought by the improvement and mechanization of coastal fishing.
|Unfortunately, there are just a few active projects with concrete courses of actions to help the species recover.
The species is intentionally protected by the Acts of Bonn, Bern and Barcelona, and the Bio-diversity and the CITES Agreements.It has also been quoted in the Red Book of the International Union for Nature Preservation (IUCN red List, 1996) as a seriously endangered species.
The species is also protected in all the countries belonging to the European Union, and there are specific areas for their protection in Greece and Portugal as well.The species is also protected in all the countries belonging to the European Union, and there are specific areas for their protection in Greece and Portugal as well.
At present, there still remains a small number of monachus seals, quite scattered on the isles of Greece, especially in Zakynthos, and Turkey, where they don’t form large stable colonies.
There are also some individuals living in Morocco and Algeria, belonging to the small population that stretches form Oran to Alhucemas.
It is probable that a small group still inhabits the Adriatic Sea, on the Albanian coasts, although the data available are not too reliable.
Experts state that the area of the Southwest and The Northeast coasts of Zakynthos offer the ideal habitat for the survival of the Monachus Seal.
On the Iberian seaboard, monk seal was an abundant species just one hundred years ago. They were found in the coastal line of Cataluña, Alicante, Murcia y Almería and the Baleares Isles.
However, they were chased to their extinction in the 1950’s and there are no traces of them during the rest of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21th century.
The last significant population of the species is found on the West Sahara coasts, which is considered as the one that may ensure the survival of this endangered species.
Apart from this colony, monk seals are just a few bunch on the Deseras Islands, in Madeiras.
How many seals are left?
The estimates for these species just take into consideration a few areas, however, based on recent information, the world population of monk seals is estimated in 415 – 615 individuals:
Aegean Sea (Cypus, Greece, Libya and Turkey) 120 - 250
Black Sea (Bulgaria, Roumania, Ukraine and Turkey) 10
Ionian Sea (Ionian isles -Greece) 20 - 35
Adriatic Sea (Croatia, Albania) 20
Central Mediterranean Sea (Sardinia – Italy) 10
West Mediterranean (Algeria, Morocco) 20 - 30
Atlantic Coast (Madeira, Sahara Occidental-Mauritania) 100 -150
The Project LIFE
As the old distribution area of monk seals is within numerous protected areas in good conditions, the Canarian authorities have set a project supported by community funds, called LIFE, in order to assist the reproduction recovery of monk seals in Spain.
||is the scientific institution in charge of the follow up of the colony, thanks to the assistance of the Isifer Association and the University of Las Palmas, on Great Canary Island.
The population they are trying to protect is located on the White Cape peninsula (West Sahara) and was discovered in 1945 by the Spanish scientist D. Eugenio Morales Agacino, It is the 2nd biggest in the world, from the about 500 individuals left.
Being those populations scarce, most of their bio-ecological parameters are still unknown. However, the monk seals living in West Sahara still keep their social organisation, so it is the ideal colony where serious studies can be conducted on the basic biology of the species that allow for getting information to follow a precise course of action towards their preservation.
The follow up of individuals along a certain period allows for elaborating population estimates and know the demographic composition of the colony.
Moreover, research is focused on certain reproductive principles as well, as their reproductive strategies, and the amount of young seals that are born and survive every year.
On the other hand, the individualised follow up of females has allowed for establishing the duration of their reproductive cycle, and foresee which females will procreate every year and when.
The pairs mother-offspring are followed and recorded in video by cameras that have been installed in their two main reproduction caves.
Mother’s behaviour is important for their offspring’s safety. On the other hand, the University is making a list of every offspring born every year, with the aim to identify and follow them until they change their fur, or die.
The high mortality rate of young seals is mainly due to the environmental conditions of their habitat, the tides and the storms that usually take them away from their caves.
At present, the colony counts on one hundred individuals. Just one year ago the population reached the three hundred seals, but two hundred died as the result of an epidemic disease caused by toxic seaweed.
Thus, the studies during the last year are essential to make an account on the recovery rate of the population.
Ecological Matters and Their Use of the Environment
Monk seals have two main environments where they develop their whole life. One part of their lives takes part inland, in the reproduction caves, and the other, in the sea, as they look for food.
They may use more than a cave according to the different seasons in the year or the sea conditions. They usually swim no farther than 5 or 6 kilometres far from the coastal line, but some individuals have been seen some 40 km from the shore.
The area where adult monk seals develop their lives extends to 20 or 40 km around the places they have chosen to rest and reproduce themselves in the land.Adult individuals can dive up to 100 meters depth, although most dive up to 60-80 metres below the sea level. Young seals may reach a depth of around 40 metres.