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Pinnipednesday - Monachus monachus Edition

Look quickly, people, before they're gone.

The Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) is one of two remaining monk seal species in the world, and is the most endangered. While the Hawaiian Monk Seal is still conservation-reliant, its population is at least self-sustaining, and there are about 11,000 of them left. The Mediterranean Monk Seal's numbers are not so good - there are only about 600 left in the wild. It is believed to be the rarest pinniped in the world.


Adult Mediterranean Monk Seals grow to be about the same length, roughly 8 feet (2.4 meters). Males outweigh females by a slight margin - 695 pounds (315 kg) to the females' 660 pounds (300 kg). They are brown or gray in color, and sometimes males will have a pale spot on their bellies and grow darker as they get older. They were once found all throughout the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the earliest written records of them were observations made by Aristotle. Now they live in tiny, isolated colonies around the southern coast of Turkey, the Desertas Islands, and in the Aegean and Ionian Seas. Only two of the known populations are thought to be viable.


The diet of the Mediterranean Monk Seal consists of different kinds of fishes as well as octopus and squid, hunting at depths between 150 to 230 feet (45 to 70 meters). They have been observed feeding at 500 feet (152 meters) as well, and they prefer to hunt in open water so that they have room to use their remarkable agility. Though they were once known to use sandy, open beaches to haul out, they now typically shelter in sea caves and rocky shores. Scientists believe this to be a recent adaptation to cope with the destruction of habitat due to tourism and industry.


The breeding season of the Mediterranean Monk Seal peaks in the autumn, between September and November. Most of the pupping occurs at the same time, with the females suckling their young for up to four months. After the pups are weaned, they will still remain with their mother for their first three years. Unfortunately, this time of year is also when sea caves can be dangerous, with storm surges and high surf washing them out. The survival rate of pups born during this time is low, about 29%.


Mediterranean Monk Seals are considered to be critically endangered by the IUCN. Many factors contributed to this radical decline in population, including over-hunting, habitat destruction and human development, and the way fishermen used to kill them on sight because they were considered to be pests. A population in Cabo Blanco witnessed a massive die-off when two thirds of the colony was wiped out by a toxic algae bloom. Greece has established a national program to protect the Mediterranean Monk Seal, but there are concerns that captive breeding/captive raising of pups would cause harm to the pups, and negatively affect the survival of the species.

Source for all images used in this post.

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