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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.

Center map

19th December, 2013

Poster presentation on the Gyaros monk seal colony

Recent Publications

Karamanlidis et al._MMC_2013Karamanlidis, A.A., S. Adamantopoulou, V. Paravas, M. Psaradellis, P. Dendrinos. 2013. Demographic structure and social behaviour of the unique Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) colony of the island of Gyaros. Poster presentation, in: 20th Biennial Conference of the Society for Marine Mammalogy. 10th December 2013, Dunedin, New Zealand. [PDF 5.1 MB]

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.


29th September, 2012

Madeira monk seal book available online

Recent Publications

Book cover: Lobos-Marinhos do Arquipélago da Madeira. Monk Seals of the Archipelago of Madeira.

Courtesy of the Parque Natural da Madeira Service, TMG is happy to make available the PDF version of Rosa Pires’ new illustrated book, Monk Seals of the Archipelago of Madeira (bilingual, English and Portuguese).

The book features sections on the biology and conservation of the species, and with monk seals recovering sufficiently to recolonise the main island of Madeira, steps members of the public can take to record and report their sightings.

Rosa Pires, a field biologist for the Parque Natural da Madeira Service, has been instrumental in the monk seal’s recovery in the Madeira archipelago.

Pires, R. 2011. Lobos-Marinhos do Arquipélago da Madeira. Monk Seals of the Archipelago of Madeira. Servicço do Parque Natural da Madeira, Funchal: 1-60. [PDF 7.7 MB]

16th June, 2012

Scientists to strap cameras to Hawaiian seals

Media Watch, Washington Examiner, 15 June 2012

Some fishermen blame the endangered species for stealing their catch. There are unfounded rumors that they devour and deplete fish stocks. And at least four of them have been killed by humans in Hawaii since late last year.

To help correct the misconceptions, government scientists plan to glue submersible cameras onto the seals’ backs, using the footage to prove to fishermen the animals are not harming their way of life. It may even end up on reality TV. [More]

For further information on the project: http://www.monksealfoundation.org/research.aspx

Source: Scientists to strap cameras to Hawaiian seals, Washington Examiner, 15 June 2012.

18th February, 2012

Monk seal threat to endangered marine turtles

Recent Publications

D. Margaritoulis & S. Touliatou. 2011. Mediterranean monk seals present an ongoing threat for Loggerheads in Zakynthos. Marine Turtle Newsletter 131 (December 2011): 18-23. [PDF 1.4 MB]

[…] During the 1994 nesting season, 8 loggerhead turtles were found dead in the wider area of Laganas Bay with injuries attributed to predation by monk seals. The observed injuries, as well as direct observations of the predation events, suggested that monk seals were attacking loggerheads from below, snapping off the posterior plastral scutes and feeding on the turtle’s entrails (Margaritoulis et al. 1996). This unique behavior, not documented anywhere else in the world (Fertl & Fulling 2007), was thought to have been triggered by depleted levels of local fish resources during the same season (Karavellas 1995). […]