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).
Duration of Observation
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Özgür Emek Inanmaza, Özgür Değirmenci and Ali Cemal Gücü. 2014. A new sighting of the Mediterranean Monk Seal, Monachus monachus (Hermann, 1779), in the Marmara Sea (Turkey). Zoology in the Middle East, 60 (3): 278-280. DOI:10.1080/09397140.2014.944438
[…] In total six caves displaying Monk Seal resting/breeding characteristics (see Karamanlidis, Pires, Silva, & Neves, 2004; Gucu, Gucu, & Orek, 2004) were discovered. There was clear evidence in one of those cases, namely the peculiar odour and tracks on the inner sandy beach, and this indicated the recent presence of a seal in the cave. The cave had a surface opening with an inner area and a platform formed by sand, pebbles and large boulders. During the surveys, seals were sighted at four different occasions on 21 April, 27-30 May and 14 June 2014, and were recorded on a video. […]
Further details have emerged of a rare monk seal sighting in southern Albania, which took place on 4 August 2012 by three Italian tourists while on a snorkelling trip.
One observer, Mario Congedo, of the Corpo Forestale San Cataldo (Lecce), informs us that the sighting occurred at about 12.00 hrs in the area south of Vlore (Valona), about 30 meters from a rocky shore, near a bay named ‘Valle dell’orso’ (Bear Valley). He was able to take several shots with a compact camera as the animal surfaced.
While there is little definitive information available on the status or habitat of the Mediterranean monk seal in Albanian waters, the species has generally been considered extinct there for many years. Rather than pointing to a resident population, sporadic sightings have been attributed to seasonal movements from elsewhere, such as the Ionian Islands of Greece — in this case, within easy swimming distance for a seal.
Despite sporadic reports of individual observations in the last few decades, the emergence of the Mediterranean monk seal in the Adriatic has only been confirmed recently. First photographically documented observations were made on the 12 June 2005. […]
Since then, Blue World regularly monitors these types of observations in the northern Adriatic. Given that the Mediterranean monk seal uses a large area it has many places to rest. Occasional observations around Cape of Premantura Kamenjak in Istria and Losinj have been made, yet there are wide areas of the coast in this region with limited accessibility where the seal could rest in peace. On the 24.06.2011 Blue World researchers recorded the movement of an individual under water (video on www.plavi-svijet.org/hr/znanost/vrste/sredozemna_medvjedica/), and subsequent inspection of the terrain we found underwater caves which may be used by the animals to rest. → Continue reading New monk seal sighting on Cres, Croatia
The last issue of TMG included a “photo quiz” promoted by the Italian Monk Seal Group – Gruppo Foca Monaca: the photo was one out of 41 shots taken by a tourist from a low cliff near the tower of Campese, on the north-western part of Giglio, and the marine mammal was at about 20 meters distance from the coast. The sighting lasted for more than half an hour, and other people were present. TMG staff comment was very clear: “As far as TMG is concerned… we think we see two seals (to judge from the stretched appearance and the subtle foreground shape…)”.
The quiz picture
Photo 1 and 2 (Courtesy Marco Prete)
I would like here to give my personal evaluations to the event. As GFM, we made an accurate evaluation of the photo (including all the others), and we reached the same conclusion: the presence, at the same moment and in the same place, of two animals, something that was not at all noticed by the photographer.
One of the two seals was sighted many times (approx. 10), from 11:58 up to 12:35. The photos were taken in this lapse of time with a professional Canon, using a 200 mm zoom, and with 3 shots/second setting.
The animal looked very disturbed, raising the head out of the water, a behaviour clearly visible in the photo no. 1, the first of seven shots, where the sixth (photo no. 2) shows how the seal was looking towards “something” just behind, and not towards the observers that were standing up on the cliff.
Photo 3 (Courtesy Marco Prete)
A second sequence of three shots (11:59) shows the second seal diving (photo no.3): it is possible to notice the difference from the first seal looking at the skin colour, much darker (typical of adult males). Have a look at the insets included in the same picture: the colour is much lighter.
Several shots, including the one featured in the “photo quiz”, show the lighter seal together with a part view of hind flippers, placed in a position impossible to be its own: the most likely explanation is that the other seal was just underneath, trying to catch her: a behaviour suggestive of courtship.
Photo 4 (Courtesy Marco Prete)
Finally, within the lapse of time between the first and the last picture, the lighter seal did not move away from the cliff, but – as it is shown in the last photo (photo no. 4) – she came closer, further confirming that she did not care very much about the people watching her from the rocks.
If I can add some further considerations to the description of the behaviour of such a still rather unknown species, (I guess somebody could define it as enriched by personal “insights”), I must admit that I was a bit frustrated by the fact that there were no other notes or comments to the “photo quiz”, apart from the one of TMG. This aspect can be assumed as a clear symbol of the lack of ideas or information exchange among the community dealing with monk seal study and conservation. I am personally convinced that monk seals can be saved only through a sincere and clear exchange of ideas and information among all those involved in their conservation. I unfortunately learned, on several occasions, that this does not happen at all, and this “behaviour” often involves those that work “professionally” on the issue. The reasons for such “scientific discretion” can vary and are sometimes understandable, but we should not forget that the monk seal is one of the rarest species on earth, and any information, even partial, is extremely important for the conservation community, to improve the protection.
TMG replies: After making comparisons with other photographs of adult female Mediterranean monk seals TMG had to reverse its opinion that “we think we see two seals” in the picture of the “photo quiz”. Comparing pictures, we thought it much more likely that it shows just one animal. Also now, after finally seeing all the pictures in the gallery, we see no convincing evidence to the contrary. — Matthias Schnellmann