The Mediterranean monk seal, the scientific name Monachus monachus, is a monk seal belonging to the Phocidae family. As of 2021, it is estimated that fewer than 600 individuals survive in three or four isolated subpopulations in the Mediterranean, mainly in the archipelago of Madeira, the Aegean Sea, and the Cabo Blanco region in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean. It is thought to be the world’s rarest known pinniped species.
Mediterranean monk seal grows from about 2.6 ft (80 centimeters) long at birth up to an average of 7.9 ft (2.4 meters) as adults, females somewhat shorter than males. Males weigh about 710 lb (320 kilograms), and females weigh nearly 660 lb (300 kilograms), with overall weight ranging from 530–880 lb (240–400 kilograms). They are believed to live up to 40 to 45 years old; the average life span is estimated to be 18 to 27 years old, and reproductive maturity is reached at about age four.
The monk seals’ pups are approximately 3.3 ft (1 meter) long and weigh around 33–40 lb (15–18 kilograms); their skin is covered by 1.25–2 centimeter-long, black to dark brown hair. There is a white stripe on their bellies, which differs in shape and color between the two sexes. In males, the stripe is usually butterfly-shaped. In females, the stripe is typically rectangular. This hair is replaced after one to two months by the usual short hair adults bear. Adults will continue to shed annually, causing their color vibrancy to alter year-long.
Not much is known of the Mediterranean monk seal’s reproduction. As of 2021, it’s thought that there are roughly 400monk seal pairs remaining in the world. Scientists have stated that they are polygynous, with males being highly territorial where they mate. Although there is no known breeding season since births take place year-round, there is a peak in October, September, and November-December. Although mating will take place inside the water, females will give birth and care for the pups in underwater caves or beaches.
Mediterranean monk seals are known to be diurnal and feed on various mollusks and fish, primarily squid, octopus, and eels, up to 2-3 kg daily. Although they usually feed in shallow seaside waters, they are also known to hunt at depths up to 200 meters, with an average depth alternating between different specimens.
The habitat of this unusual pinniped has evolved over the years. In ancient days, and up until the early-20th century, Mediterranean monk seals had been known t give birth, congregate, and seek refuge on beaches. They have left their previous habitat in more recent days and now only use sea caves for these pursuits. Often these underwater caves are not accessible to humans. Frequently their shelters have underwater entries, and many caves are positioned along rugged or remote coastlines.
Human Activity- Declining Seal Population
Numerous causes prompted a dramatic population decrease of these seals over time: on the one hand, commercial hunting (particularly during the Roman Empire and Middle Ages) and, during the early 20th century, eradication by fishers, who used to think of it as a pest due to the destruction the seal causes to fishing nets when it preys on fish caught inside them; and, on the other hand, pollution and coastal urbanization.