Monachus – Mediterranean monk seal

The world’s rarest pinniped species; in 2015, it is estimated that less than 700 individuals survived in 3 to 4 isolated subpopulations

The Mediterranean Monk Seal is one of the world’s most endangered marine mammals, inhabiting the Mediterranean Sea and parts of the North Atlantic Ocean. This species is distinguished by its small, short hairs covering its skin, which aid in hydrodynamics and warmth. The coloration of these seals varies between genders, with males typically exhibiting black fur and females displaying dark grey coats. Both sexes have a lighter shade of fur on their bellies, providing a slight camouflage in the aquatic environment. The snout of the Mediterranean Monk Seal is notably flat, broad, and short, characteristic of the species, and their flippers, while relatively short, are equipped with small claws that aid in navigation and feeding.

Mediterranean Monk Seals are adept at foraging in various marine environments, capable of diving up to depths of 250 meters (820 feet). However, they prefer feeding in shallow coastal waters where their agility and speed can be fully utilized. Their remarkable swimming skills allow them to outmaneuver predators, including sharks, highlighting their prowess in the water. As opportunistic predators, their diet encompasses a wide range of marine life, including octopuses, squids, eels, and various fish species.

Historically widespread throughout the Mediterranean Sea, the population of the Mediterranean Monk Seal has dramatically declined due to human activities, including hunting, habitat destruction, and incidental bycatch in fishing gear. These seals now occupy a fraction of their former range, with small, fragmented populations found in secluded and inaccessible coastal areas or caves, which they use for resting, molting, and breeding.