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Mediterranean monk seals are considered one of the world’s most threatened marine mammals. Once widespread throughout the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the northern coast of Africa they have declined dramatically. This is due to major threats including deliberate killing (owing to conflict over fish stocks), entanglement in fishing nets, habitat loss and disturbance due to tourism.
• The monk seal is named after its folds of skin which slightly resemble a monk’s cowl.
• Monk seals have been present at some of the key moments in our history. One of the first ever coins from around 500 BC featured the head of a monk seal. They appear on Greek and Roman pottery, and may even be the inspiration for the sirens in the Odyssey.
• Today, due to development along the coasts monk seals no longer give birth and raise their pups on beaches. Instead these shy animals choose sheltered caves away from human disturbance.
• The shape of the white or yellow patch on a new-born Mediterranean monk seal can be used to determine the sex of an individual.
• Mothers remain with their pups constantly for the first five to six weeks of their lives without feeding.
Since 2012, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been working in Gökova Bay, Turkey to protect Mediterranean monk seals. Together with local partner, The Mediterranean Conservation Society, FFI has helped establish and manage six no-take zones (areas closed to fishing) to minimise illegal fishing activity, promote fish stock and habitat recovery in Gökova Bay, Turkey.
Since then three Mediterranean monk seals have been sighted in one of the no-take zones for the first time in around 40 years. Commercial fish stocks and catches have also increased rapidly, and local fishermen and women are now helping to patrol the Bay. We are immensely proud of our work and partners in Gökova Bay, and believe this very successful model could be applied elsewhere to bring monk seals back from the brink.
Main image courtesy of Zafer Kizilkaya.