Extinction of mediterranean monk seal

April 7, 2023, 11:41 a.m.

The Mediterranean Monk Seal – one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world

The Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) prefers slightly warmer waters than most other seal species and was once abundant in the entire Mediterranean Sea and parts of the adjacent Atlantic. Decades of hunting and deliberate killings by fishermen, accidental entangling in fishing nets, disease and habitat destruction pushing the animals from open beaches to caves, has since taken a heavy toll on populations.

The Mediterranean monk seal is the most endangered pinniped species worldwide and is currently on the brink of extinction. Although formerly found all over the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea and northwest African coast, the species' numbers have now been reduced to perhaps less than 600.

For centuries Mediterranean monk seals have been killed by fishermen who see the seals as competitors or accuse them of destroying their fishing gear. In the past the seals were also killed by those who believed that sealskin and seal parts were able to provide protection from a variety of medical problems. When European explorers discovered the monk seal colonies off the NW coast of Africa, they made short work of them to lucrative advantage. In the Mediterranean, sustained persecution coupled with disturbance and habitat degradation appears to have suppressed colony formation and led to fragmentation of relict populations. The final demise of the monk seal in the Black Sea may have been accelerated by the repeated capture of individuals for zoos and outdoor fairs. The mortality of monk seals by entanglement in fishing gear is still a problem, while over-fishing has also resulted in a general lack of food resources. The continually increasing use of motor vessels, expansion of fishing effort and areas, coastal construction and increased tourism have all contributed to difficulty in protecting monk seal habitat and preventing recovery of monk seal colonies.

The main threats arrayed against the Mediterranean monk seal include: habitat deterioration and loss by coastal development, including disturbance by tourism and pleasure boating; deliberate killing by fishermen and fish farm operators, who consider the animal a pest that damages their nets and ‘steals’ their fish, particularly in depleted coastal fishing grounds; accidental entanglement in fishing gear leading to death by drowning; decreased food availability due to over-fishing pressures; so-called stochastic events, such as disease outbreaks.

The Mediterranean monk seal is particularly sensitive to human disturbance, with coastal development and tourism pressures driving the species to inhabit increasingly marginal and unsuitable habitat. Extirpated from much of its original habitat by human persecution and disturbance, females now tend to give birth only in caves in remote areas, often along desolate, cliff-bound coasts. But it's not safe, because in some pupping caves, pups are vulnerable to storm surges and may be washed away and drowned.

Unforeseen or stochastic events, such as disease epidemics, toxic algae or oil spills may also threaten the survival of the monk seal. In the summer of 1997, two thirds of the largest surviving population of Mediterranean monk seals were wiped out within the space of two months at Cabo Blanco (the Côte des Phoques) in the Western Sahara. While opinions on the precise causes of this epidemic remain sharply divided, the mass die-off emphasised the precarious status of a species already regarded as critically endangered throughout its range.

Why is the Mediterranean monk seal extremely important today? In addition to the obvious functions and roles that it performs for the ecosystems in which it lives, it is also of incredible value today, not only for the entire humanity of the present and future, it is of extremely important value for the entire planet.

Just one cent saves a whole dollar. And when you have the last dollar and nothing else is left, then you should save it, otherwise there will be nothing left at all.

If we allow the final extinction of the Mediterranean monk seal, then this will trigger a whole series of events from the mass and final subsequent extinctions of all other species that are now on the verge of complete extinction. This, in turn, will trigger a series of events from the extinctions of even those species that now seem to cause the least concern. Ultimately, all this will lead to the extinction of life in the seas and oceans.

Do you recognize the problem and how should this problem be solved?