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Critters » Monk Seals

Monk Seals

The ancient Greeks believed the Mediterranean monk seal (monachus, monachus) was under the protection of Poseidon and Apollo and saw them as an omen of good fortune. Once prevalent throughout the Mediterranean region and along Africa's Atlantic coast, only an estimated 300-500 remain, making them the rarest known seal in the world, and Europe's number one endangered mammal. Listed as critically endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resource's Red List (IUCN) and in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Mediterranean monk seal is thought to have only two remaining populations -- in the eastern Mediterranean and the northeast Atlantic off the coast of Northwest Africa.

Mediterranean monk seals feed in shallow water, and come ashore primarily to hidden coastal caves and beaches. Threatened by killings, diminishing food supplies due to overfishing and pollution, and habitat destruction, the seals face tremendous pressures that are pushing them to the brink of extinction. Their close cousin, the Caribbean Monk Seal, was declared extinct in 1996.

In 1993 the IUCN's Seal Specialist group recommended the establishment of a captive breeding program for the seal, a suggestion that remains controversial in the seal protection community today. The seals previously have not done well in captivity, and any removal could jeopardize the health of the existing colonies. To date, captive breeding programs have not been successful, so the survival of the species today relies largely on protection in their native habitats.

Two major areas of progress in conserving the species was the creation of Greece's first marine national, the Northern Sporades National Marine Park, as well as The Desertas Island National Reserve in Madeira, both areas encompassing major monk seal habitats. Local and international groups are working together to research the seals further, encourage education and protection of the species, develop conservation measures, and rescue injured or sick seals.

For more information on how you can help protect the monk seal, please visit the Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk Seal and -- an Internet Site dedicated to the Mediterranean, Hawaiian and Caribbean Monk Seals.

Green Fact:
To reduce waste, try to bring your own travel mug to the coffee shop (and enjoy discounts!) and refill water bottles. Other tips include making two-sided copies, using a reuseable lunchbag and using cloth nakpins and reuseable plates.
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