The Beacon

Marine Monday: Mediterranean Monk Seal

A Mediterrean monk seal. [Image via Wikimedia Commons.]

The Mediterranean monk seal, like its cousin the Hawaiian monk seal, is one of the most endangered mammals in the world.

Estimates suggest that they number around 400 total, with the largest populations in Greece and Morocco. Mediterranean monk seals are larger than their Hawaiian relatives, and unlike most seals, their pups are born with black fur.

Mediterranean monk seals are not migratory and can usually be found in small groups or alone. They eat primarily fish and cephalopods, and they can communicate about dangers using high-pitched noises.

Pregnant seals used to give birth on beaches, but due to habitat loss they now typically do so in sea caves, which are more protected. At about one week old, Mediterranean monk seal pups enter the water for the first time. Only about half of pups survive their first two months.

Among Mediterranean monk seals, both long-term fostering and milk-stealing are common between unrelated mothers and pups. However, mothers and pups remain together for as long as three years.

Mediterranean monk seals have a long history -- they even appeared on coins around 500 BC. Beginning in the 15th century, they were heavily hunted for skin and oil. Now, fishermen often kill Mediterranean monk seals, either in an attempt to eliminate fishing competitors or accidentally, as bycatch.

Other threats to Mediterranean monk seals include pollution, boat strikes, oil spills and diseases. Furthermore, because populations are so low, inbreeding is a serious concern. Unfortunately, many of the conservation measures that have been developed to protect this animal are poorly enforced.

Learn more about monk seals and other fascinating marine animals in our marine life encyclopedia.


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