Wild life and nature of Samos, Ikaria & Fournoi

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The Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus)


The M. monachus is a species of medium sized seals, with long fusiform bodies. Females have an average length of around 2.42 m, and males 2.51 m. Females have four retractable teats present on the bottom side of their abdomen. On average, an adult M. monachus weighs within the range of 240-300kg, with a maximum recorded weight of 400kg for males and 302kg for females. At birth, pups are around 1.00m in length and weigh around 15-26kg. Male adults have short black fur with a white belly patch, whilst females have brown or grey fur with a lighter belly. Pups are born with black or dark chocolate coloured, furry coats, known as lanugo fur, and a ventral white patch which varies in position depending on gender. The first moult occurs around eight weeks after birth and can occur at any time throughout the year. It is not uncommon for this first moulting phase to partially occur in the water.


Monk Seals previous hauled out onto open beaches. However, human disturbance, habitat disturbance, harassment and intense hunting has forced most Monk Seal populations to cease this behavior. Some populations have been found to continue to haul out onto beaches where human disturbance is low, such as in protected areas. Now, Monk seals are mainly found ranging around cliff-bound coasts, where multiple sub-marine caves can be found cut into the surface, even though these protected habitats are considered to be sub-optimal environments for pupping, whelping and resting. Beach visibility, entrance depth, number of beaches, main beach substrate, human activity, number of entrances, corridor length, entrance width, levels of light and wind susceptibility all play a role in the selection of a suitable caved habitat, and help limit disturbance by humans.


Monk Seals are considered to be opportunistic predators due to their capability to feed on many different food sources. They have a very diverse diet, with studies showing the stomach content of deceased individuals to contain the remains of 530 different prey species from 75 different taxa. The diet of an M. monachus consists mostly of bony fish, cephalopods and crustaceans. The largest component of their diet, by weight, was found to be cephalopods, which make up around 94% of their diet on average, with Sepia officinalis being particularly prominent. However, other studies have shown that octopus often make up the largest part of a monk seal diet. Sponge (Sarcotragus sp.) and sea grass (P. oceanica) species were present as well in small proportions.

Protection status

  1. M. monachus were previously abundant throughout the Mediterranean and Black Seas as well as the South-Eastern North-Atlantic Ocean, from the Azores Islands to the Equator. Currently, the distribution of this species has been greatly reduced and fragmented to the point where only a few populations can be found scattered throughout the Mediterranean Sea, with only four-hundred to five-hundred individuals thought to be alive today. The largest known population is believed to be made up of around two-hundred and fifty to three-hundred found throughout the North-Eastern Mediterranean in the Ionian and Aegean Seas in Greece, Turkey and the Cilician Basin. M. monachus species is considered to be one of the most endangered seal species alive today, as well as one of the most endangered Currently, the biggest threats to the M. monachus include deliberate or accidental killing, disturbance or destruction of habitat, pollution, overfishing depleting food sources and serious infectious diseases. Now it is listed by the IUCN red list as “Endangered”.

Interesting facts

Mediterranean Monk Seals belong to the Phocidae family, which is comprised of ‘earless seals’. This does not mean they do not have ears altogether, they are just unable to be seen externally. Monk Seals were previously hunted extensively for their skin, fur, oils, and for certain body parts which could be used in medicine. Nowadays, they are often hunted by fishermen, who claim that they interfere with their fishing equipment.

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