Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Pinnipedia
Family:    Phocidae
Size:    Length: 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 m)
Weight: 400 to 880 pounds (182 to 399 kg)
Diet: Eels, sardines, lobsters, tuna and octopus
Distribution: Mediterranean
Young:  1 every other year
Animal Predators:  Killer whales and sharks
IUCN Status: Critically endangered
Terms: Young: Pup
Lifespan: 20 to 30 years



·         The Mediterranean monk seal was first described by Aristotle in third century B.C.

·         The monk seal gets its name from the Greek “monachos” meaning monk or solitary one.

·         One of the first Greek coins, minted around 500 BC, was adorned with a picture of the head of a monk seal.

·         Seals disturbed by humans or boats make sounds like wounded dogs and may even howl.



Mediterranean monk seals have brown, black or light grey fur with a white or off-white belly. Males tend to be slightly larger than females. 



Monk seals were once a familiar sight as they sunned on the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean, but can now be found only in isolated regions of the Mediterranean and the northwest African coast.


Feeding Habits

They stay in shallow water near the coast and feed on all kinds of fish including sardines, tuna, crustaceans, octopus and eels. 



Reproduction rates for monk seals are slow, because females begin breeding only at the age of four and have a pup only once every other year at most. Female monk seals have long pregnancies of 11 months, but will spontaneously abort if disturbed by humans during that time. Pregnant females find an isolated spot to give birth and remain there for up to six weeks while the pup nurses. She does not leave the pup even to find food for herself, and lives off stored body fat instead. If a female is disturbed while she has a nursing pup, she may become so upset that her milk stops flowing. Pups are born with black woolly coats that moult at four to six weeks. A new, silvery gray coat grows in and darkens as the pup ages. The bond between the mother and pup is strong and they may remain together for three years. 



Adult Mediterranean monk seals live in colonies of about 20 individuals while in water, but while on land they prefer to remain solitary. Monk seals are extremely skilful swimmers and divers, able to outmanoeuvre even a shark. When a predator is approaching in the water, monk seals communicate this information to each other with a high-pitched sound. Mediterranean monk seals are active during the day. 



At one time, monk seals were cherished by fishermen and locals, who believed they brought good luck. Monk seals were placed under the protection of Apollo and Poseidon in ancient Greece, for their love of the sun and the sea. In recent years, however, human overpopulation has led to a number of problems for these seals. Seals get caught in fishing nets, and succumb to the high quantity of pollution caused by human waste being spilled out into the sea by sewage treatment plants, as well as industrial plants. The large numbers of boats that frequent the sea have also been responsible for a number of seal deaths, as they run over the animals or collide with them.  There are fewer than 500 Mediterranean monk seals existing in the wild today and they are on the list of the 20 most endangered species in the world.



Mediterranean Monk Seal Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US