Headlines – News – Articles
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.

8th July, 2016

The stomach content of a Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus): finding of Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) remains

Recent Publications

Non-open access journalsTonay, A.M., E. Danyer, A. Dede, B. Öztürk and A.A. Öztürk. 2016. The stomach content of a Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus): finding of Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) remains. Zoology in the Middle East. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09397140.2016.1202947


The stomach contents of an adult Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) found stranded on the Turkish eastern Mediterranean coast near Antalya in May 2013 were analysed. In total, 69 individual food items were counted and nine taxa were identified to species or family level. Of the identified taxa, Sparidae was the most highly represented family of prey fish, and one cephalopod species, Octopus vulgaris, was found. Ariosoma balearicum and Argyrosomus regius were encountered for the first time in the diet of a Monk Seal in the Mediterranean. Several body parts (three heads, six forelimbs, neck bones and fractured upper forelimb bones) of Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas) were also identified, which is the first record of this species in the Monk Seal’s diet.

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.

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]

20th July, 2014

New publication confirms coastal diet for Mediterranean monk seal

Recent Publications

Non-open access journalsAlexandros A. Karamanlidis, P. Jeff Curtis, Amy C. Hirons, Marianna Psaradellis, Panagiotis Dendrinos and John B. Hopkins III. 2014. Stable isotopes confirm a coastal diet for critically endangered Mediterranean monk seals. Isotopes in Environmental and Health Studies, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10256016.2014.931845.


Understanding the ecology and behaviour of endangered species is essential for developing effective management and conservation strategies. We used stable isotope analysis to investigate the foraging behaviour of critically endangered Mediterranean monk seals (Monachus monachus) in Greece. We measured carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios (expressed as δ13C and δ15N values, respectively) derived from the hair of deceased adult and juvenile seals and the muscle of their known prey to quantify their diets. We tested the hypothesis that monk seals primarily foraged for prey that occupy coastal habitats in Greece. We compared isotope values from seal hair to their coastal and pelagic prey (after correcting all prey for isotopic discrimination) and used these isotopic data and a stable isotope mixing model to estimate the proportion of coastal and pelagic resources consumed by seals. As predicted, we found that seals had similar δ13C values as many coastal prey species and higher δ13C values than pelagic species; these results, in conjunction with mean dietary estimates (coastal=61 % vs. pelagic=39 %), suggest that seals have a diverse diet comprising prey from multiple trophic levels that primarily occupy the coast. Marine resource managers should consider using the results from this study to inform the future management of coastal habitats in Greece to protect Mediterranean monk seals.

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.

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]

5th December, 2012

29 pups counted so far

In their just-published September-October Newsletter, Greek NGO MOm reports the births of 29 monk seal pups to date this breeding season: 11 in the Cyclades, 8 on the island of Evia and 5 each in the Ionian and the Dodecanese. The pup counts form part of population monitoring in specific areas of Greece, in an attempt to gather information on overall trends. No pup count information has been released from the National Marine Park of Alonnisos, Northern Sporades, where no population monitoring appears to have ben conducted for several years — apparently the victim of funding cut-backs.