Headlines – News – Articles
24th November, 2015

Shaping species conservation strategies using mtDNA analysis: The case of the elusive Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus)

Recent Publications

Non-open access journalsKaramanlidis, A.A., S. Gaughran, A. Aguilar, P. Dendrinos, D. Huber, R. Pires, J. Schultz, T. Skrbinšek and G. Amato. 2016. Shaping species conservation strategies using mtDNA analysis: The case of the elusive Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus). Biological Conservation 193: 71–79. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2015.11.014


Halting biodiversity loss is one of the major conservation challenges of our time and science-based conservation actions are required to safeguard the survival of endangered species. However the establishment of effective conservation strategies may be hampered by inherent difficulties of studying elusive animals. We used analysis of control region sequences to obtain baseline information on the genetic diversity and population structure and history of the elusive and critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal that will help define an effective conservation strategy for the species. We analyzed 165 samples collected throughout the entire extant range of the species and identified 5 haplotypes. Based on levels of genetic diversity (haplotypic diversity: 0.03; variable sites: 0.6%) the Mediterranean monk seal appears to be one of the most genetically depauperate mammals on Earth. We identified three genetically distinct monk seal subpopulations: one in the north Atlantic [Cabo Blanco vs. Aegean Sea (FST = 0.733; P = 0.000); Cabo Blanco vs. Ionian Sea (FST = 0.925; P = 0.000)] and two in the Mediterranean, one in the Ionian and another one in the Aegean Sea (Ionian vs. Aegean Sea FST = 0.577; P = 0.000). Results indicate a recent divergence and short evolutionary history of the extant Mediterranean monk seal subpopulations. Based on the results we recommend continuation of the monitoring efforts for the species and systematic collection of genetic samples and storage in dedicated sample banks. On a management level we argue that, based on genetic evidence, it is justified to manage the Atlantic and Mediterranean monk seal subpopulations as two separate management units. In Greece, the existence of two subpopulations should guide efforts for the establishment of a network of protected areas and identify the monitoring of habitat availability and suitability as an important conservation priority.

21st November, 2015

The Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus: status, biology, threats, and conservation priorities

Recent Publications

Non-open access journals

Karamanlidis, A.A., P. Dendrinos, P.F. de Larrinoa, A.C. Gücü, W.M. Johnson, C.O. Kiraç and R. Pires. 2015. The Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus: status, biology, threats, and conservation priorities. Mammal Review 45 (4). doi:10.1111/mam.12053


  1. Publication coverThe Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus is the most endangered seal species. In this review we summarize the status, ecology, and behaviour of the Mediterranean monk seal, and identify the main threats that currently affect the species and the conservation priorities for securing its survival.
  2. Once abundant throughout the Black Sea and Mediterranean, as well as off the Atlantic coasts of northwestern Africa and Macaronesia, the Mediterranean monk seal has recently suffered dramatic declines, both in abundance and geographical range. It is now estimated that fewer than 700 individuals survive in three or four isolated subpopulations in the eastern and western Mediterranean, the archipelago of Madeira and the Cabo Blanco area in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean.
  3. Mediterranean monk seals are coastal marine mammals. When resting and pupping on land, individuals generally seek refuge in inaccessible marine caves; this behaviour is, in part, believed to be an adaptation to increased disturbance by humans. Larger aggregations or colonies of the species can now be found only at Cabo Blanco in the Atlantic Ocean and on the island of Gyaros in the eastern Mediterranean.
  4. The main threats to the survival of the Mediterranean monk seal are habitat deterioration; deliberate killing, mainly by fishermen; and accidental entanglement and drowning in fishing gear. Limited availability of food sources and stochastic and unusual events have occasionally also contributed to Mediterranean monk seal mortality.
  5. Based on a common consensus among scientists and conservationists, the main conservation priorities for the monk seal are: habitat protection; mitigating negative interactions between seals and fisheries; scientific research and monitoring of local seal populations; education and public awareness campaigns; and rescue and rehabilitation of wounded, sick, and orphaned seals.

14th September, 2015

Translocation déjà vu


CBD_Habitat_screenIn declaring the Mediterranean monk seal colony at Cap Blanc in Mauritania/western Sahara “closed” [see blog], is Spanish NGO CBD-Habitat edging ever closer to resurrecting a plan that would see seals artificially translocated to other areas? The theory is that this would minimise the risk to the colony posed by mass mortality events, while helping to recolonise areas historically occupied by the species. Unfortunately, as earlier abandoned attempts to translocate or captive breed monk seals proved, the devil is in the detail.

With other signs indicating that a new translocation plan might already be on the drawing board, The Monachus Guardian has requested clarification from CBD-Habitat on no fewer than seven occasions, but has received no reply. Ironically, earlier, discredited and ultimately abandoned attempts to translocate monk seals — with all the attendant risks of seals being wounded or killed during capture and transport — were roundly condemned for their lack of transparency.

The Monachus Guardian’s view — shared by many involved in monk seal conservation — is that translocation should be examined carefully as a potential option in the recovery of the species, but only through wide and open consultation with the wider scientific and conservation community. While previous efforts to translocate or captive breed monk seals have routinely tried to sideline potential critics, others rightly insist that critics are precisely what are required in order to design a project that can highlight and mitigate potential risks. Pursuing controversial and potentially risky projects through the “backdoor” does a disservice to the Mediterranean monk seal and conservation at large.

12th August, 2015

Main Hawaiian Islands Monk Seal Management Plan available for public review

Recent Publications

NOAA Fisheries announces the completion of a Draft Main Hawaiian Islands Monk Seal Management Plan. The draft plan will be available for public review and comment for 30-days, from August 11 through September 9, 2015. To see the draft plan and find out how to comment, please see here.

National Marine Fisheries Service. 2015. DRAFT Main Hawaiian Islands Monk Seal Management Plan. National Marine Fisheries Service, Pacific Islands Region, Honolulu, HI. [PDF 1.3MB]

2nd August, 2015

Prehistoric and historic distributions of the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) in the eastern Atlantic

Recent Publications

Non-open access journalsGonzález, L.M. 2015. Prehistoric and historic distributions of the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) in the eastern Atlantic. Marine Mammal Science 31(3): 1168–1192. DOI: 10.1111/mms.12228.

The present Atlantic range of the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus), a critically endangered species, comprises two populations in the Desertas Islands and Cape Blanco region. The species is currently the subject of an action plan that encourages the recolonization of its former range. I investigated their causes of its disappearance using species records from paleo-archeological sites and historical sightings/toponyms. I hypothesize that the species’ prehistoric range extended from the continental coasts of North Africa to the Iberian Peninsula, an area larger than its current known range. It is further hypothesized that the historic range included at least 13 colonies, seven more than the present number; and that the original optimal breeding habitat was open beaches, while sea caves were a suboptimal, marginal habitat. It is suggested that hunting and the disappearance of two islands due to a historical tsunami event explain the disappearance of the other populations, leaving only those at the Desertas Islands and Cape Blanco that were sheltered in sea caves. Furthermore, the use of sea caves, in conjunction with effective legal protection in the 20th century, explains the present-day survival of these Atlantic colonies of M. monachus.

2nd August, 2015

Il mistero del Mediterraneo

Il mistero del MediterraneoRecent Publications

Il mistero del Mediterraneo. Trent’anni di incontri con la foca monaca.
Author: Emanuele Coppola
Publisher: Orme Editori
ISBN: 978-8867101405

[in Italian]

27th July, 2015

Tourists “smother” tame Mediterranean monk seal ‘Argiro’ with their caresses — Report

FokiaArgyroTouristesAs long predicted by TMG, tourists swimming with and petting the tame, human-imprinted Mediterranean monk seal named ‘Argiro’ on the Eastern Aegean  island of Samos are at serious risk of bites, scratches and even more serious injury. While their compassion for the seal may be a plus point for the conservation of the species, the numbers flocking to pet and swim with her are exacerbating Argiro’s human imprinting and putting the welfare of both seal and bathers in jeopardy.

Now Greek animal website ZooSos reports that on 20 July, three tourists were bitten while playing with Argiro, necessitating hospital treatment.

Source: http://www.zoosos.gr/article/7567/oi-touristes-pnigoun-me-ta-hadia-tous-ten-arguro-e-phokia-tous-epitethei-poios-tha-phta

28th May, 2015

MOm reports on the progress of Andriana

from MOm’s Facebook page

A month after her release, Andriana continues to enjoy her journeys in the northwestern Aegean. The daily distances she travels are impressive, while diving depth has been steadily increasing and has reached to a depth of 50m. Until now Andriana has completed her first “tour” of the northwestern Aegean Sea (as can be seen on the map), returning just recently to the island of Alonissos in the National Marine Park of Alonissos, Northern Sporades (NMPANS). During this “tour” Andriana managed already to get entangled in a long-line; we would like to thank our friend from Kria Vrisi at the island of Evoia and the members of the Management Body of the NMPANS who helped to free Andriana from this fishing equipment.

Every single one of us can make a difference and help, not only Andriana, but all wildlife live in harmony next to us. It should be noted that the data collected by Andriana’s tag are extremely important in helping us understand how monk seals move and behave in their marine environment and ultimately help us protect them more efficiently.