Headlines – News – Articles
18th February, 2014

Mediterranean monk seals cohabit with humans in Madeira

by Rosa Pires, Parque Natural da Madeira Service
“Half” resting in the sea at the Funchal marina.

“Half” resting in the sea at the Funchal marina.

The presence of monk seals around Madeira is no longer headline news. Here at the Parque Natural da Madeira Service (PNMS) we have collected almost a 1000 sightings of Mediterranean monk seals around the main island of Madeira since the year 2000. What is new though, is the behaviour of two adult males that began using areas frequented by humans, such as beaches or bathing complexes, marinas and ports. Since June 2013, we have collected 47 reports of these two seals in such areas, along the southeast coast of Madeira. Most of the sightings described the seals as resting in the sea or on land, but also hunting, and ignoring human presence, even if in some situations curiosity brought people very close to the animals.

This is not a common behaviour for this species. In the case of one of these two seals, named “Half”, who was found last August with a severe injury to his neck, his weakness, and the possibility that he was fed by people, could be one explanation [see Wounded Madeiran monk seal returns to the sea]. Another is that as these two seals were born on Madeira and not on the uninhabited Desertas islands, this resulted in an adaptation of behaviour towards human presence. Combined with knowledge of more sheltered places to rest and the advantage of being able to hunt in these areas without too much disturbance, it is a possibility!

“Half” resting on a Madeiran beach.

“Half” resting on a Madeiran beach.

Generally the reaction of the people of Madeira to these surprising sightings is very positive – they inform the PNMS and the marine authorities. However, for the most part their perception is that the seals are ill and require veterinary treatment. As a precautionary measure, it is important to keep an eye on these seals in case an intervention should become necessary. So far, however, we are finding that the best intervention is none — just to create space for the seals.

Informing Madeiran people how to coexist with the monk seal is becoming all the more important.

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