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30th April, 2015

Death of the monk seal known as “Half”

by Rosa Pires, Parque Natural da Madeira Service
Metade in the Desertas Islands in 2001.

Metade in the Desertas Islands in 2001.

Last March the Natural Park of Madeira (SPNM) received information that a dead monk seal had been discovered near Ribeira Brava, a village on the south coast of the island.

SPNM staff investigated and, with the help of some local people, found the body. It turned out to be “Metade” (“Half”), the adult male that was found in 2013 with a deep wound to his neck.

Since then Metade had been observed using the coastline of Madeira to rest, mainly in marinas and open beaches. He seemed old and just looking for good places to rest and we were already expecting that one of these days we would find him dead.

The body was retrieved with the help of locals and the staff of the “Aquailha” aquaculture center. No specific cause of death was evident. The body was frozen in the Whale Museum of Madeira, where there is already another cadaver.

SPNM staff searching for the dead monk seal.

SPNM staff searching for the dead monk seal.

Metade being retrieved from Ribeira Brava harbour.

Metade being retrieved from Ribeira Brava harbour.

 

One of the objectives of the LIFE13 NAT/ES/000974 Madeira Monk Seal project it is to collect the bodies of dead seals to be used in a workshop on monk seal necropsies. Madeira veterinarians will have the chance to be trained to perform seal necropsies and the cause of death of these animals will be established.

 

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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.

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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

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25th June, 2014

First monk seal images from the maternity cave of the Desertas Islands

by Rosa Pires, Parque Natural da Madeira Service

For the second year in a row, Mediterranean monk seal images have been collected from the automatic cameras installed in the maternity cave of the Desertas Islands. Together, these are the first images ever taken of monk seals inside a cave in Madeira.

The cameras were installed when there was no seal activity in the cave, in order to avoid any possible disturbance.

Although the 13,000 images have yet to be properly analysed, a first look confirms once again that this system is actually an excellent tool to monitor the population. The pictures are now of a better quality (light and framing), improved by the experience gained during the first implementation of the system in 2012.

The results obtained during 2012 allowed us to observe events and situations which would otherwise have been missed, including two dead pups and two others alive. The total of 5 births counted in 2012 was the highest number ever recorded in the Desertas Islands — and is another indication that the monitoring of the population has improved significantly using this technique.

The peak activity of monk seals inside of the cave was recorded in October, coinciding with the occurrence of the largest number of births.

The continuation of this work and its expansion into other areas used, or with the potential to be used, by monk seals is undoubtedly an excellent investment in the monitoring of this species and consequently for its conservation.

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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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13th November, 2013

First pup of 2013 spends 24 hours in Desertas Islands Rehabilitation Unit

by Rosa Pires, Parque Natural da Madeira Service
The pup resting on Tabaqueiro beach, Desertas Islands. Photo: PNMS.

The pup resting on Tabaqueiro beach, Desertas Islands. Photo: PNMS.

We are now in the monk seal pupping season in Madeira’s Desertas Islands. Over recent years, peak births have occurred in October, but this year we detected the first pup on 31 October. This pup was observed over 4 days to be always alone, resting on the same beach – Tabaqueiro. When on one day it was considered to be overly lethargic, it was decided to take the pup to the Rehabilitation Unit on the Desertas Islands. Fortunately, this allowed us to confirm that the pup was in a good condition; a male about three weeks of age, 114cm in length and weighing around 20kg. Awaiting better sea conditions, the young seal was released into its natural habitat the following day. Immediately entering the sea, it swam to the cave where we believe it was born – Tabaqueiro cave, considered the monk seal maternity cave of the Desertas Islands. → Continue reading First pup of 2013 spends 24 hours in Desertas Islands Rehabilitation Unit

4th September, 2013

Wounded Madeiran monk seal returns to the sea

by Rosa Pires, Parque Natural da Madeira Service

[click on images to enlarge]

On 27 August 2013 a Mediterranean monk seal was found in a weakened state at Porto Moniz, on the northern coast of Madeira island.

This seal, known as “Half”, an adult male who has been monitored since 1997 by PNMS (Parque Natural da Madeira Service), was observed by local people on a small stony beach, its debilitated state apparently due to a severe injury in the neck area. → Continue reading Wounded Madeiran monk seal returns to the sea

3rd December, 2012

Automatic cameras record monk seals in the Desertas Islands

Rosa Pires, Parque Natural da Madeira

Pup with the females – “Female Y” and “Riscagrande” on Tabaqueiro beach. (Click to Enlarge)

Over recent years, camera monitoring systems have been installed on several occasions in Madeira’s Desertas Islands, yet failed to achieve the desired results.

This year, however, we obtained the first images of monk seals on site using a simple system, comprising an automatic camera.

On 26 October 2012, the system captured the first pup of the reproductive season — barely one day old.

The calf, a female, is healthy and being cared for by two females who share the role of mother. It is thought possible that one of them may have previously lost her own calf.

Pup with the “Female Y”, 20 days later. (Click to Enlarge)

It is hoped that the initiative, undertaken through the BES Biodiversity award, with the technical assistance of Spanish organization CBD-Habitat, will allow more effective monitoring of monk seals both on beaches and in caves. The system is also expected to prove its value during the current stormy season, which often prevents or inhibits firsthand observation.

By January or February 2013, we hope to have results from the camera system installed inside ‘Tabaqueiro’ — a maternity cave.