Critically Endangered Mediterranean Monk seal uses cell phone

Victoria, the orphan baby Mediterranean monk seal rescued from rough seas near the Greek island of Tinos just hours after she was born in early October, was released today back to her natural environment, after 4 months of treatment.photo_02_08_victoria2

Named after the woman who dived in and rescued her, the little seal was treated at MOm’s a monk seal hospital. When found, the young seal weighed just 15 kilos, was malnourished and suffered from serious injuries. Staff and volunteers not only kept her alive but also taught her the survival skills she needs to make it in the open seas. On the second of February, Victoria, weighing more than 50 kilos and able to hunt was successfully released in the waters of the National Marine Park of Alonissos, Northern Sporades, Greece, which is the largest and most important sanctuary for Monachus monachus in the world.

To keep track of the animal, MOm in collaboration with the Sea Mammal Research Unit (UK), attached a special transmitter to receive via SMS, information about the seal’s location, depth of dives, time spent in and out of the water and swimming speed. This is the first time that a Mediterranean monk seal “communicates” via mobile networks, a method considered to be even more reliable than satellite tracking.

The young seal, equipped with the latest cutting-edge technology but also inoculated against life-threatening viruses, is the 16th Monachus monachus that returns healthy to its natural environment after receiving care by MOm.
Blazevic and Jasna Antolovic. http://www.mofi.gr/uk/news.htm

imagesThere are only about 400 monk seals (Monachus monachus) left in the world, and half of them are found in the Mediterranean region of Turkey and Greece. The other half live in the Atlantic. educational materials were given to teachers, and brochures were distributed to tourists to encourage them to help to protect the seals’ habitats. Artificial rocks were even placed in the sea to prevent fishing boats from coming too close.

– extract from the UNESCO Courier, June 1995.

Once found throughout the Mediterranean and Black Seas, and the North African Atlantic, the Mediterranean Monk Seal is now restricted to a few isolated stretches of coastline. Although at one time commercially exploited, its decline over the past 30 years is attributable to human disturbance (including tourism) and increased urbanisation of coasts, which caused it to abandon many breeding beaches in favour of caves, where breeding success is poor; persecution by fishermen; and new fishing methods which have depleted prey stocks. The species occurs in several protected areas, but more are required to safeguard its future

The Mediterranean Monk Seal is one of the worlds most endangered mammals. What chance is there of saving it from extinction? Monachus monachus, to call it by its Latin name, is one of three species of Monk Seal.

Humans hunted Mediterranean monk seals for the basic necessities of their own survival – fur, oil, meat, medicines – but in early antiquity did not kill them in large enough numbers to endanger their existence as a species.

A few Monk Seals still inhabit the Mediterranean, but vanishingly few, and they are rarely glimpsed. Too many governments have divided up the waters of the Mediterranean to make organized research feasible. And, in any case, monk seals are rattled by human doings — motorboats, airplanes, fishing, tourists.

All the monk seal wants is to continue living in the ancient seas for which it was designed. But those waters are gone now. Pollutants, plastics and fishing lines ride the waves, and people stomp along the beaches or race across the reefs. Occasionally a pregnant monk seal does haul up onto a beach but often is chased back into the ocean.

Remember if you see a monk seal sunning on a beach leave it alone.

By chasing it back into the ocean. That simple act may kill it and its young.

The Mediterranean Monk seal teeters on the edge of extinction.

In the early summer of 1997 the Mediterranean monk seals of the Mauritania colony were struck by a mystery disease. It is estimated that at least two-thirds of the colony of about 310 seals have been killed and there may even be as few as 70 left. Post mortem analysis indicates that a toxic algal bloom was the most likely cause. Such blooms, also known as red tides, can be natural but may also be stimulated by pollution. Further information is available in a World Wide Fund report http://www.weburbia.com/seals

Pregnant Mediterranean Monk Seals typically use inaccessible undersea caves while giving birth, though historical descriptions show that they used open beaches until the eighteenth century. There are 8 pairs of teeth in both jaws. Believed to have the shortest hair of any pinniped, the Mediterranean monk seal fur is black (males) or brown to dark grey (females) with a paler belly which is close to white in males. The snout is short broad and flat, with very pronounced, long nostrils that face upward.
The Mediterranean Monk Seals are diurnal and feed on a variety of fish and mollusks, primarily octopus and squid, up to 3kg per day. They are known to forage, mostly, at depths of 150-230 feet.

Because these seals’ shy nature and sensitivity to human disturbance, they have slowly adapted to try avoid contact with humans completely within the last century, and, perhaps, even earlier than that. This change in habitat, however, has not been good for the seals, particularly the young. Coastal caves are dangerous for newborns and are major mortality cause among pups.

Reports of positive results of such efforts exist throughout the area. In the Aegean Sea, only Greece has allocated a vast area for the preservation of the Mediterranean monk seal and its habitat. The Greek Alonissos Marine Park, that extents around the Northern Sporades islands, is the main action ground of the Greek MOm organisation. people-saving-seal

MOm is The Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk Seal was founded in 1988 by a group of biologists and researchers from the University of Athens. MOm. MOm is greatly involved in raising awareness in the general public, fundraising for the helping of the monk seal preservation cause. http://hellas.ncsr.gr/nature/mom.html

Image 3  MMS Group researchers at Palagruza. From left to right, Pave Fadic, Adriana Borcic, Marta

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