Headlines – News – Articles
4th January, 2017

Occurrence and impact of interactions between small-scale fisheries and predators, with focus on Mediterranean monk seals (Monachus monachus Hermann 1779), around Lipsi Island complex, Aegean Sea, Greece

Recent Publications

Non-open access journalsNoelia Ríos, Matija Drakulic, Iosu Paradinasb, Anastasia Milliou, Ruth Cox. 2017. Occurrence and impact of interactions between small-scale fisheries and predators, with focus on Mediterranean monk seals (Monachus monachus Hermann 1779), around Lipsi Island complex, Aegean Sea, Greece. Fisheries Research 187: 1-10. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fishres.2016.10.013


Antagonistic interaction between Mediterranean marine mammals, including the endangered monk seal (Monachus monachus), and small-scale fisheries is a growing problem in the Aegean Sea. Effective management measures are needed to ensure both the survival of the monk seal population, and its coexistence with the small-scale fisheries. In this study, data from 371 fishing journeys by 8 different boats was collected between March and November 2014. Evidence of depredation by monk seals was recorded in 19.1% of fishing journeys, by cetaceans in 5%, and by other predators in 16.5%. Analysis of landings data showed that gear and depth were the variables most likely to influence the occurrence of depredation. There was a significant decrease in the catch per unit effort (CPUE) of four of the nine targeted fish species when depredation by monk seals occurred. The total cost of monk seal depredation was estimated to be 21.33% of the mean annual income of fishermen in the Aegean Sea. We discuss how the implementation of marine protected areas and the use of specific fishing gear could reduce the frequency of interactions, and thus mitigate the loss experienced by the fisheries as well as contribute to the conservation of an endangered species.

26th August, 2016

Amendment of the regulation on disturbance of monk seals in sea caves in Turkey

Cem O. Kıraç and N. Ozan Veryeri, SAD-AFAG

The existing regulation on disturbance of Mediterranean monk seals in caves along the Turkish coast was amended exactly as proposed by SAD-AFAG in January this year and published by the DG Fisheries & Aqua Products in the Official Gazette on 13 August 2016. The amended regulation reads as follows: “It is forbidden to use any light source inside, dive by any means into, enter by swimming or any other way into, wait or anchor in front of either underwater or surface entrances to caves used by Mediterranean monk seals”. The amended version of the related article was published in both, the Professional Aqua Product Fishery Circular No 2016/35 and the Recreational Aqua Products Fishery Circular No 2016/36.

Tourist boats in front of monk seal caves…

Tourist boats in front of monk seal caves…

…a thing of the past?

…a thing of the past?

Although the threats for monk seals along Turkish coasts greatly differ from region to region in the country, disturbance to monk seals in sea caves, their ultimate refuge along the remote coasts, is a real menace for the species. The problem is especially prominent in popular diving locations with cliff and rocky shores, such as in Çeşme, Kuşadası, Bodrum, Fethiye, Dalaman, Marmaris, Kaş, Kekova, Kemer, Antalya and Alanya, where monk seals still breed and are present permanently. Suitable sea caves are the only places within the species’ habitat for reproduction and resting, and therefore play a crucial role for the continued survival of this rare marine mammal.

Diving into monk seal caves, a thing of the past?

Diving into monk seal caves, a thing of the past?

The previous version of the regulation, in force since 1991, simply read “it is forbidden to use any light source inside and diving by any means into caves where monk seals live”, which also has been proposed by SAD-AFAG, in the very first National Monk Seal Committee meeting in Ankara in January 1991. However, over time it has been realized that some of the tourism stakeholders, mainly daily excursions boats and some tourist diving companies, have been diluting the above mentioned article of the Aqua Products Circular and claim that letting their customers enter the monk seal caves by boats or by swimming, is not covered by the previous regulation and for this reason they have the freedom to enter sea caves as they please. Therefore, SAD-AFAG deemed it necessary to prepare an amendment submitted to the DG Fisheries & Aqua Products (under the Ministry of Food, Agriculture & Husbandry) in January 2016 with its official communiqué dated 5th January 2016 and No. SAD-16/03 given below, filling-in the “legal gaps” that were misused by some stakeholders.

In the same proposal to the new Aqua Products Circular, SAD also proposed in cooperation with other relevant NGOs such as the Recreational Underwater Hunters Society (İzmir), the Development of Artisanal Fishery Society (İstanbul) and the Recreational Line Fishery Society (Ankara), the prohibition of fishing of two demersal fish species; Dusky grouper Ephinephelus marginatus and White grouper Ephinephelus aeneus, whose stocks have been heavily depleted in Turkish seas. The DG Fishery and Aqua Products (BSÜ GM) has accepted the proposal and these two demersal fishes are included in the list of species completely banned for fishing in the next 4 years period from 2016 to 2020. It is believed that one of the best ways to suppress the increasing populations of Lessepsian species and invasive aquatic species along the Turkish coasts of the Levant Sea and the Aegean Sea is to help recover populations of originally resident species such as groupers, sea bass, sea bream and dentex. Supporting marine ecosystems in a holistic approach will surely have a positive impact on the conservation of endangered predator species such as monk seals, sea turtles and shark species.

Further information in Turkish:



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**


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

28th May, 2015

Mediterranean monk seal predation by a white shark

Recent Publications

Pujol, Juan A. 2015. Un antiguo caso de predación de foca monje mediterránea adulta, Monachus monachus (Hermann, 1779) por tiburón blanco, Carcharodon carcharias (Linnaeus, 1758) en las Islas Baleares, España. Bol. R. Soc. Esp. Hist. Nat. 109: 71-74. [Published online: http://historia.bio.ucm.es/rsehn/index.php?d=publicaciones&num=40&w=284&ft=1]

In 1906, a white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) was accidental [sic] trapped in Ciutadella (Balearic Islands). In its stomach was found an adult Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus), being the first chronological case of predation between both species in the Mediterranean sea.

En 1906 un ejemplar de tiburón blanco (Carcharodon carcharias) fue atrapado accidentalmente en la almadraba de Ciudadela (Islas Baleares). En su estómago fue encontrado un adulto de foca monje mediterránea (Monachus monachus), constituyendo cronológicamente el primer caso de predación entre ambas especies en el Mediterráneo.

21st May, 2015

The Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus in Cyprus

by Melina Marcou,
Department of Fisheries and Marine Research,
Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment, Republic of Cyprus

Monitoring Programme and Surveys

Monk seal surveys had previously been carried out in Cyprus in 1997, 2005-2006 and 2011. These surveys, along with the sighting records, identified a small number (<10) of monk seals still inhabiting the seas around Cyprus. A number of caves were examined along the coastline of Cyprus during the surveys for existence of suitable monk seal habitats. According to the findings, sea caves located in Akamas area and Cape Greco area, both areas part of the Natura 2000 network, are likely to be suitable monk seal habitats. In addition, sea caves in the Limassol and Xylofagou areas were recorded and the presence of the monk seals was confirmed.

In addition to the surveys, the Department of Fisheries and Marine Research (DFMR) has been implementing a monitoring programme since 2011, with visits to the previously discovered sea caves, recording the presence / absence of monk seals, as well as any signs of occupation by monk seals. Furthermore, a database is being maintained, recording sightings of the monk seals around the island of Cyprus.

Through the implementation of the monitoring programme, it is noted that the monk seals are often sighted in the wider area of the sea caves. The most important finding through the monitoring programme is the confirmation of monk seal breeding in Cyprus! More specifically, in November 2011, a seal pup, with an estimated age of 1 month, was discovered in one of the sea caves of the island. This is an important finding, since we have now confirmed that this critically endangered species is using the sea caves in Cyprus, not only for resting purposes, but also for breeding. It is extremely important for the survival of this critically endangered species, to protect its habitat.

The 2011 pup…

…estimated to be 1 month old

Major Threats

The major threats to the monk seal in Cyprus are considered to be loss and degradation of habitats, urbanisation of the immediately adjacent areas, and tourism/recreational pressures. Most monk seal habitats are included in the Natura 2000 areas for which preliminary management plans have been prepared. No monk seal by-catch has been noted in Cyprus.

Legal Protection

Monk seals have been protected, among other species, in Cyprus since 1971 by the Fisheries Law (CAP 135) and Regulations made up to 1990 (Reg. No. 273/90). Moreover, monk seals are included in Annex II of the Protocol concerning Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity (SPA Protocol) of the Barcelona Convention, which Cyprus ratified with the Law No. 20(III)/2001.

Monk seals are a Priority species (Annex II) in the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) and for their conservation the designation of Special Areas of Conservation is required. The Habitats Directive has been transposed to the national legislation in 2003 with the Law on the Protection and Management of Nature and Wildlife, No. 153(I)/2003. The Natura 2000 network in Cyprus is being set up through this Law.

Apart from the above national, regional and EU legislation, there are a number of other provisions in the fisheries legislation that are indirectly relevant to the protection of monk seals, such as the prohibitions on the use of explosives, fish resource management measures, especially those concerning the limitations on fishing effort, seasonal restrictions on nets setting at water depth less than 5 m, closed seasons for trawling etc.