Headlines – News – Articles
13th July, 2016

Recent sightings of the Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus and evaluation of anthropogenic activities with recommended conservation implications in Antalya Bay, Turkey

by Aylin Akkaya Bas*, Nicola Piludu, João Lagoa and Elizabeth Atchoi,
Marine Mammals Research Association, Antalya, Turkey**

Introduction

Mediterranean monk seals (Hermann, 1779) were once widely and continuously distributed in the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea and North Atlantic waters (Aguilar 1999). The species is considered to be one of the world’s most endangered pinnipeds, with the global population estimated to be around 500 individuals (Karamanlidis & Dendrinos 2015), only 50-100 of which are left in Turkey (Güçlüsoy et al. 2004; Öztürk et al. 1991). Antalya Bay is subjected to high marine traffic year-round, and especially during summer months, when tourism activities peak. We report the most recent sightings of Mediterranean monk seals in Antalya Bay and investigate the impact of boat traffic on the species. Considering that the population in the Turkish Mediterranean is estimated at around 40 individuals (Güçlüsoy et al., 2004), the recent sightings in Antalya are of vital importance for the knowledge of the overall Turkish population, and provide great insight for conservation plans and consequently for the species’ survival in the region.

Methodology

Systematic surveys were carried out from 1st of March to 29th of December 2015 from two independent observation stations located on the coastal cliffs of Antalya, covering approximately 300 km2 of sea. The geographic position and activity of boats and seals were recorded using a FOIF theodolite paired with a laptop and later plotted via ArcGIS v.9. Group size, behaviour, diving interval, and proximity of boats to seals were recorded. Behavioural states were defined following Pires (2011) as travelling, predation, resting and socializing.

Results

In total, surveys were conducted for 84 days (360 hours). Mediterranean monk seals were sighted on thirteen different days and were observed for a total of 4.42 hours. Two independent sightings were recorded in Olympos, Antalya on the 28th September 2015 and 9th June 2016 by a local diver (Table 1, Figure 1). September had the highest encounter rate with four sightings; seals were not sighted in March, October, November and December. 75% of the sightings took place during morning hours (between 06:00 – 10:00) with the latest sighting at 14:46. Sightings were close to the coast, with the furthest sighting occurring 400 m from the closest shore, and all in waters of depths of 50 m or less. Observation duration ranged from 5 seconds to 2.14 hours. Diving intervals were recorded in four of the sightings and the average dive time was 8.4 minutes (n=15, SD=6). All sightings were of single individuals, except on one occasion (28th August 2015), when two different mother/pup pairs were sighted simultaneously. Sighted individuals most often engaged in travelling and predation behaviour, each covering 46% of recorded behaviours. Resting behaviour was only recorded in 8% of the observation time.

 

Table 1. List of Mediterranean monk seal sightings in Antalya Bay, Turkey (Group n = Number of groups; Ind., n = Number of individuals).

Obser-vation Order Date Grp. n Ind. n Coordinates Duration of Observation Observer Type
Latitude Longitude
1 06.04.15 1 1 36,868358 30,717608 00:00:30 Researcher
2 03.06.15 1 1 36,868399 30,716916 00:00:30 Researcher
3 09.06.15 1 1 36,872549 30,710370 00:19:23 Researcher
4 14.07.15 1 1 36,844051 30,758193 00:50:00 Researcher
5 21.07.15 1 1 36,846757 30,766002 00:05:00 Researcher
6 11.08.15 1 1 36,845150 30,760602 00:05:00 Researcher
7 28.08.15 2 2 36,845941 30,763090 00:04:13 Researcher
7 28.08.15 1 2 36,845782 30,769369 00:42:54 Researcher
7 28.08.15 3 1 36,845407 30,760500 00:05:54 Researcher
8 03.09.15 1 1 36,863364 30,716302 00:05:00 Researcher
9 17.09.15 1 1 36,865397 30,715356 02:14:37 Researcher
9 17.09.15 2 1 36,867132 30,718574 00:00:30 Researcher
10 24.09.15 1 1 36,845844 30,762567 00:00:30 Researcher
11 28.09.15 1 1 36,389119 30,496578 00:05:00 Diver
12 09.06.16 1 1 36,387446 30,487483 00:10:00 Diver
13 13.06.16 1 1 36,846990 30,768247 00:00:60 Researcher

 

Figure 1. Seal sightings during the surveys (numbers above the marks represent the observation order).

Figure 1.  Seal sightings during the surveys (numbers above the marks represent the observation order).

An average of 87 boats was present every day within the survey area (51% tour boats, 26% fishing boats and 20% speedboats). When the core zones for boats and seals were mapped there was considerable overlap (Figure 2). Additionally, boats were recorded within a 400 m radius from the focal seal in 31% of the observation time. Both possible active avoidance behaviour (i.e. leaving the area permanently) and possible habituation (i.e. resurfacing in similar area within a time interval), were recorded towards the speedboats. No signs of avoidance to nearby fishing boats were recorded.

Discussion

The continued presence of adults throughout the study period, and the single observation of two pups simultaneously, suggest that a population of Mediterranean monk seals still survives in Antalya Bay. If appropriate conservation measures are taken, population growth can be achieved, especially given the proximity of the study site to the Olympos-Beydağları National Park, a critical site for the species (Gücü et al. 2009). However, in the current situation, the bay is still characterised by high human activity that might prevent the survival of a healthy colony. Given the observation of mother/pup pairs, and based on informal talks with locals who have a personal interest in marine life and claim to check often on specific caves in order to see seals with their pups, we conclude that despite heavy human presence there is at least one breeding cave in Lara Cliffs.

 

Figure 2. Seal sightings overlaid with the core zones of fishing, speed, and tour boats. Boat presence core zones were delimited at 50% contour, where boat density through time is higher.

Figure 2. Seal sightings overlaid with the core zones of fishing, speed, and tour boats. Boat presence core zones were delimited at 50% contour, where boat density through time is higher.

Our study showed overlap between area usage by seals and boats. Seals were spotted predominantly during early morning hours, when most boats are still absent, which could be an indication of intentional avoidance of boats. Without further research, however, no definitive cause can be deduced. No direct avoidance was recorded towards fishing boats, again suggesting some degree of habituation. This is in accordance with the species’ opportunistic feeding behaviour (Johnson & Karamanlidis 2000). Fishermen have reported seals following their fishing boats for long periods of time and actively waiting in specific areas for fishermen to set their nets (Johnson & Karamanlidis 2000). These interactions with artisanal and industrial fisheries, however, are likely to be a source of stress, ultimately causing a direct threat to the population of Mediterranean monk seals. It is known that various methods (i.e. lights, chasing seals with boats, noise and warning shots with rifles) are used by fishermen to keep seals away from the nets (Danyer et al. 2013; Güçlüsoy & Savaş 2003). Direct persecution and deliberate killing have also been reported in Turkey (Danyer et al. 2013; Güçlüsoy et al. 2004; Öztürk 2007).

The conflict between human activities and seals should be addressed by an array of diverse actions that should combine research, education and enforcement. The establishment of protected areas has been proven effective to some degree (Pires et al. 2008). Fishermen and boat crews should be engaged in each conservation activity in order to attempt perception change and avoid the resulting possible local extinction of the species.

Our results demonstrate the pressing urgency to continue and update the research programme to investigate Antalya’s population. Obtaining robust data on species distribution, individual identification, and especially confirming the presence of seal caves and pupping areas are the first steps in developing conservation measures that will encourage the survival of Antalya’s population of Mediterranean monk seals. While local efforts to preserve a possible Antalya colony are critical, a nationwide initiative aimed at mapping the remaining colonies and creating a network of marine protected areas connected by corridors, alongside educational and awareness programs, remains the highest priority to ensure the survival of the species in Turkey.

Acknowledgements: We would like to thank all the volunteers, Alec Christie, Anissa Belhadjer, Ayça Eleman, Callum Duffield, Carine Gansen, Dawid Szubryt, Henry Appleton, Jesse Poot, Johanna Bergman, Nicole Tomsett, Petra Solarik, and Sarah Bellamy, who helped throughout the process of collecting data, and the Marine Mammals Research Association for financial support.

References

Aguilar, A. 1999. Status of Mediterranean monk seal populations. In RAC-SPA, United Nations Environment Program, pp. 1-60. Aloès Edition, Tunisia.

Danyer, E., Özbek, E.Ö., Aytemiz, I. & A.M. Tonay. 2013. Preliminary report of a stranding case of Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus (Hermann, 1779) on Antalya coast, Turkey, April 2013. Journal of the Black Sea/Mediterranean Environment, 19: 278˗282.

Güçlüsoy, H, & Savaş, Y. 2003. Interaction between monk seals Monachus monachus (Hermann, 1779) and marine fish farms in the Turkish Aegean and management of the problem. Aquaculture Research, 34: 777-783.

Güçlüsoy, H., Kıraç, C.O, Veryeri, N.O. & Savaş, Y. 2004. Status of the Mediterranean monk seal, Monachus monachus (Hermann, 1779) in the coastal waters of Turkey. Journal of Fisheries & Aquatic Sciences, 21: 201–210.

Gücü, A. C., Sakinan, S. & Meltem, O. 2009. Occurrence of the critically endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal, Monachus monachus, at Olympos-Beydağları National Park, Turkey (Mammalia: Phocidae). Zoology in the Middle East, 46: 3-8.

Johnson, W.M. & Karamanlidis A.A. 2000. When fishermen save seals. The Monachus Guardian, 3: 18-22.

Karamanlidis, A. & Dendrinos, P. 2015. Monachus monachus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. Http://www.iucnredlist.org. [Accessed 25 July 2015].

Öztürk, B. 2007. Akdeniz Foku ve Korunmasi. Yalıkavak Environment and Seal Research Society Publication no: 1. Muğla, Turkey.

Öztürk, B., Candan, A. & Erk, M.H. 1991. Cruise results covering the period from 1987 to 1991 on the Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus Hermann, 1779) occurring along the Turkish coastline. In Conservation of the Mediterranean Monk Seal -Technical Aspects. Antalya, Turkey.

Pires, R. 2011. Monk Seals of the Archipelago of Madeira. Serviço do Parque Natural da Madeira. Funchal, Portugal.

Pires, R., Neves, H.C. & Karamanlidis, A.A. 2008. The critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus in the archipelago of Madeira: Priorities for conservation. Oryx, 42: 278-285.

 

*Corresponding author: akkayaaylinn@gmail.com
**Marine Mammals Research Association, Kuskavagi Mah. 543 Sok. No.6/D Dükkan, 07070, Antalya, Turkey.

8th July, 2016

The stomach content of a Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus): finding of Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) remains

Recent Publications

Non-open access journalsTonay, A.M., E. Danyer, A. Dede, B. Öztürk and A.A. Öztürk. 2016. The stomach content of a Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus): finding of Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) remains. Zoology in the Middle East. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09397140.2016.1202947

Abstract

The stomach contents of an adult Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) found stranded on the Turkish eastern Mediterranean coast near Antalya in May 2013 were analysed. In total, 69 individual food items were counted and nine taxa were identified to species or family level. Of the identified taxa, Sparidae was the most highly represented family of prey fish, and one cephalopod species, Octopus vulgaris, was found. Ariosoma balearicum and Argyrosomus regius were encountered for the first time in the diet of a Monk Seal in the Mediterranean. Several body parts (three heads, six forelimbs, neck bones and fractured upper forelimb bones) of Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas) were also identified, which is the first record of this species in the Monk Seal’s diet.

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

Abstract

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

Abstract

  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

COMMENT

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.

Abstract
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]