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18th December, 2014

Seal breeding season in the Desertas Islands, Madeira

Rosa Pires, Parque Natural da Madeira
Two females and one pup interacting at the entrance of the Bufador cave.

Two females and one pup interacting at the entrance of the Bufador cave.

As a result of the campaign to monitor the monk seal breeding season in Madeira’s Desertas islands, we could confirm already the birth of two pups, a female and a male. These two, born in September/October, were monitored over 2 weeks at the entrance of Bufador cave, where a concealed lookout post was established. From here it was possible to identify the group of seals using the cave and observe their behaviour without disturbing them or influencing their natural behaviour.

With an estimated age of 1 month, the pups used to come out of the cave very frequently, but always staying near the entrance and being followed by their mothers “Tria” and “Manchada”, or by the other three females identified in the area. In total ten different seals were identified using this cave – two pups, five females, one adult male and two juveniles. On one day it was possible to observe nine of these seals.

Three females and one male at the entrance of the Bufador cave.

Three females and one male at the entrance of the Bufador cave.

A dead seal was also found at the entrance of Bufador cave – one of the juveniles. The body was already in a state of advanced decomposition, and the cause of death could not be established. However, the presence of this dead seal resulted in interesting observations of the behaviour of one of the pups. Several times we were almost on the point of entering the water to save the pup, which had invented a “nice” game in “playing dead” by being completely inactive for long moments. In fact, when we first detected the dead juvenile, this pup was following the body, which was moving with the sea current, trying to interact with her.

Additionally a pup and a female were detected in another cave, Vermelhas, suggesting a third birth. However, sea conditions did not allow us to confirm this information.

Mother with pup from the 2014 breeding season at the Desertas.

Mother with pup from the 2014 breeding season at the Desertas.

To date, four births have been detected during 2014, including two occurring before the typical breeding season, and two deaths – the juvenile mentioned above and an adult male found in Madeira.

As part of  the new EU LIFE Project [see New EU LIFE project for Madeira’s monk seals], several surveillance cameras were placed in the most important caves around the Desertas. It is hoped that these will be an important tool in monitoring the monk seal breeding season more effectively, achieving a more accurate number of births and deaths, identifying reproducing females and gaining a better understanding of the seals’ behaviour in the caves.

12th December, 2014

New EU LIFE project for Madeira’s monk seals

LIFE Madeira Monk Seal – Mediterranean monk seal conservation in Madeira and development of a conservation status surveillance system
Duration: 01-JUN-2014 to 30-MAY-2018

LIFE13_NAT_ES_000974_MAPThe project LIFE Madeira Monk Seal aims to resolve known threats to the monk seal and improve its long-term conservation in the Madiera region. It specifically seeks to address conflict between the habitat needs of the seal and human activities in coastal areas.

The project plans to draft and have formally adopted a new Monk Seal Regional Conservation Plan in the Madeira archipelago. It aims to increase the intervention capacity of Madeira’s Natural Park Service, as the competent authority, to tackle threats or risk situations for the species. It will also directly intervene to restore and protect habitats used by the seal for reproduction and rest, including beaches and submerged or partially submerged sea caves.

The project plans to develop a new monitoring protocol and surveillance system for the monk seal. It will take non-invasive methodologies developed for monitoring high-density populations and adapt them for use with the scattered and low-density seal population. It will also establish well-defined indicators and base-line values for the monk seal´s demographic status and the different influences affecting it.

Expected results:

  • An official Monk Seal Regional Conservation Plan in Madeira;
  • Increased capacity of the Natural Park of Madeira to intervene along the coastline to tackle threats or emergency situations for monk seal individuals;
  • Surveillance systems, indicators and baseline values for monitoring of the monk seal and its habitat;
  • Demonstration of the success and potential transferability of non-invasive monitoring methods for such scattered and low density populations;
  • Improved protection and increased availability of high-quality terrestrial habitats used by monk seals;
  • Better implementation of regional legislation for the protection of marine vertebrates;
  • Improved attitudes and engagement towards monk seal conservation;
  • Reduced threats and disturbances from fishermen, tourism operators, tourists and local inhabitants, including reduction of accidents and entanglements in marine debris and abandoned fishing gear; and
  • Contribution to the International Action Plan for the Recovery of the monk seal in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic that is being developed by Portugal, Spain, Morocco and Mauritania in the framework of the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS/UNEP).

Further information

7th December, 2014

IUCN – Best breeding season yet for Mediterranean Monk Seal colony

This year has seen the best monk seal breeding season since 1997 at Cabo Blanco, Mauritania. The colony stands now at around 250 individuals, marking an ongoing recovery from the mass die-off in 1997, which saw the 300 strong population plummet by two thirds.

Mercedes Muñoz Cañas, Project Technician with CBD-Habitat, explains more about the season’s births and project objectives on the IUCN website:

“So far the project team have counted 67 seal births at the colony and the 2014 breeding season has not yet closed! According to Mercedes this is a new record for the “Costa de las focas“ – a sanctuary that constitutes the biggest hope for the recovery of this Critically Endangered species […]”  — Read More at IUCN – Best breeding season yet for Mediterranean Monk Seal colony.

19th November, 2014

Rescue of an orphaned monk seal pup on Skopelos

MOm – press release, 18 November 2014

On Saturday the 15th of November, MOm’s Rescue Team was informed by Mrs Niki Lemoni, member of the Veterinary Network of ARION, Cetacean Rescue & Rehabilitation Research Center, that a newborn female Mediterranean monk seal was stranded orphaned in Velanio beach at Skopelos, Northern Sporades.

Mr Andreas Aggelopoulos, resident of Skopelos, found the young pup and immediately informed the island’s veterinarian, Mrs Lemoni who performed the initial health examinations on the animal.

The overall clinical and veterinary condition of the pup indicates that it has been alone, without its mother, for at least five days. It should be also noted that a week ago, MOm was informed of a dead stranded adult female monk seal, which probably is the pup’s mother.

On Sunday the 16th of November, the young pup was transferred to Athens with the support of the Port Police authorities of Skopelos island. The orphaned pup is currently being treated at MOm’s Mediterranean monk seal First Aid Unit, which has been kindly provided by Attica Zoological Park.

The results of the first veterinary tests have shown that the pup’s condition is critical. It is dehydrated and has symptoms of a respiratory infection. The pup weighs only 13 kilograms, and is approximately 15 days old.

→ Continue reading Rescue of an orphaned monk seal pup on Skopelos

29th October, 2014

Note on an old female monk seal that died in Croatia in 2014

by Prof. Dr Đuro Huber, Biology Department, Veterinary Faculty, Zagreb, Croatia

The individual concerned was photographed for the first time on 08 March 2009 by the Monk Seal Group (Jasna Antolović, chair) in the Nature Park Kamenjak at the tip of the Istria peninsula. Confirmed sightings of the monk seal in the area started already in 2004. However, at that time the animal did not have the distinguishable scars on the base of the neck and the base of the hind left flipper. It can be stated that this animal stayed in the area at least for five years and probably almost for 11 years. Automatic cameras pictured her on many occasions in the meantime, but she was also seen several times around the island of Cres, as well.

Since the winter of 2013/14 she was frequently found resting on public beaches not exhibiting fear of people. On 21 February 2014 Đuro Huber observed and photographed her in a perfect physical condition sleeping on a beach and breathing 6 times per minute. Some foamy yellow liquid was seen coming out of her nose on several occasions. Jasna Antolović once provided a bacteriological test of the liquid and Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria were determined. The seal continued to use beaches near urban areas through summer 2014 when the same beaches were crowded with people. Even close proximity approaches by humans on the shore and in the water were tolerated.

→ Continue reading Note on an old female monk seal that died in Croatia in 2014

25th August, 2014

A new sighting of the Mediterranean monk seal in the Marmara Sea

Recent Publications

Non-open access journalsÖzgür Emek Inanmaza, Özgür Değirmenci and Ali Cemal Gücü. 2014. A new sighting of the Mediterranean Monk Seal, Monachus monachus (Hermann, 1779), in the Marmara Sea (Turkey). Zoology in the Middle East, 60 (3): 278-280. DOI:10.1080/09397140.2014.944438

[…] In total six caves displaying Monk Seal resting/breeding characteristics (see Karamanlidis, Pires, Silva, & Neves, 2004; Gucu, Gucu, & Orek, 2004) were discovered. There was clear evidence in one of those cases, namely the peculiar odour and tracks on the inner sandy beach, and this indicated the recent presence of a seal in the cave. The cave had a surface opening with an inner area and a platform formed by sand, pebbles and large boulders. During the surveys, seals were sighted at four different occasions on 21 April, 27-30 May and 14 June 2014, and were recorded on a video. […]

20th August, 2014

New report on monk seals of Gyaros, Greece

1st Annual Conservation Status Report of the Mediterranean Monk Seal Population at the island of Gyaros

Recent Publications

[…] Annual pup productivity

The minimum mean annual number of births (n = 7.75) recorded at the island of Gyaros is one of the highest recorded for the species in the Mediterranean Sea and could be higher if systematic assessments of natality were conducted throughout the breeding season at each site in the years 2004 – 2011. Systematic surveys of annual pup production at Cabo Blanco in the Western Sahara (González et al., 2002), the Northern Sporades, Kimolos & Polyaigos, and at Karpathos & Saria (MOm, 2007) yielded counts of 25.0, 8.4, 7.9, and 3.7, respectively. […]

MOm. 2014. 1st annual conservation status report of the Mediterranean monk seal population at the island of Gyaros. 1-30. [PDF 1.5MB]

18th August, 2014

Tourism could help save Mediterranean monk seals, but if unmanaged it will only accelerate their demise

Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara

boat-traffic-1

[…] Unfortunately, the monk seal breeding season happens to coincide in part with the peak of the tourist season, a coincidence likely to result in making the seals even more endangered than they already are, as I had the opportunity of documenting yesterday in an undisclosed location of the Northern Dodecanese, in Greece.

There, sheltered on a small sandy beach at the far end of a large cave carved in the cliff of a small, uninhabited islet, lives today a female monk seal with her small pup. As it happens, the location is also very popular with tourists from nearby islands, who converge there aboard day-trip boats organised by local operators, as well as with their own vessels; and the word has spread that seals can be visited in the cave.

Well-managed, tourism could be a bonus for monk seal conservation because of the high value that visitors attribute to such charismatic animals. This value can be harnessed to the benefit of the local communities, which would then strive to protect the seals or, at a minimum, stop destroying them. However, in the current total absence of management, anyone can imagine the amount of disturbance that this seal pair is subjected to, in a most critical phase of their existence and in a moment in which their quiet and peace should be guaranteed at all costs. […] Full article.