From the bustling colonies of ancient times to the present day, Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus populations have been reduced to sad remnants of their once lively past. The species is currently considered critically endangered and is facing “high risk of extinction in the wild” (International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2010).
Therefore, today (11th of July of 2014) while surveying the waters of the Inner Ionian Sea Archipelago, when we saw a dark silhouette gracefully gliding across the sea surface we could hardly believe that what we had in front of us was a monk seal. Nevertheless the best was yet to happen! just a few minutes after starting with our observation we where privileged to see this pup/juvenile (our best estimate of its body length would be 120-150 cm) voraciously preying on an octopus just a few meters away from our boat.
Colleagues working on this species, primarily based on the analysis of stomach contents, have suggested the ability of these animals to exploit a wide variety of food resources including octopus. Photographic evidence is provided on this particular feeding behaviour.
Have a look at our photo-gallery and allow us to share this amazing experience with you.
Ironically, while observing these lonely monk seal peacefully surfacing near our boat, I was suddenly struck by the sad fact that it has been precisely its trusting nature, which has rendered the species such an easy target for hunters and aggravated fishermen who consider them a pest that damages their nets and ‘steals’ their fish, particularly in depleted coastal fishing grounds like the Greek Ionian Sea coastal waters. Habitat deterioration and loss by coastal development, including disturbance by tourism and pleasure boating are other significant threats for the species.
A perfect example of the current efforts taking place for the conservation on the Mediterranean monk seal in Greece is the program CYCLADES LIFE, “Integrated Monk seal conservation of Northern Cyclades”, which aims to establish for the first time in Greece, a new Marine Protected Area (MPA) around the Natura site of Gyaros (a deserted islet – former exile site), under a management plan that will be designed with a holistic and interdisciplinary approach and use a pioneering methodology that will promote sustainable development in local communities, support sustainable fisheries and protect biodiversity.
Those of you encountering any monk seal are strongly encouraged to report it to MOm’s MEDITERRANEAN MONK SEAL OBSERVATION REPORT site
For more information visit: Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Mediterranean monk seal (MOm).
Recommended reading: Notarbartolo di Sciara G., Adamantopoulou S., Androukaki E., Dendrinos P., Karamanlidis A., Paravas V., Kotomatas S. 2009. National strategy and action plan for the conservation of the Mediterranean monk seal in Greece, 2009 ‐ 2015. Report on evaluating the past and structuring the future. Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Mediterranean monk seal (MOm), Athens.