“Humans ate my food”

The tragic and hopeful story of the three monk seals species: one already extinct, and two critically endangered

Monk seals are named so because they are extremely shy creatures. They are mysterious “loners”. The name of the genus, Monachus, literally means “alone” in Greek. There are three Monachus species: Monachus tropicalis, now believed to be extinct, Monachus monachus, with only about 700 individuals left, and Monachus schauinslandi.

Rest in peace Monachus tropicalis

Also called the Caribbean monk seal, West Indian seal or sea wolf, it was officially declared extinct in 2008. Reason for extinction: Humans. Killed for its oil, there was one last circumstance that is believed to have given it the last blow: the few remaining seals actually starved. Humans were overfishing the seal’s food source. We made this beautiful creature starve to death.

The few remaining seals actually starved

from Wikipedia: The most visible factor contributing to the Caribbean monk seals’ demise was the nonstop hunting and killing of the seals in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to obtain the oil held within their blubber.Surprisingly little was done towards attempting to save the Caribbean monk seal; by the time it was placed on the endangered species list in 1967 it was likely already extinct

Monachus schauinslandi: 1400 left, and declining

Also called the Hawaiian monk seal because it is endemic in the Hawaiian islands. There is evidence that populations in some specific islands are beginning to increase following conservation efforts. Time will tell whether this is enough to start boosting the numbers back up.

From Wikipedia: These monk seals are a conservation-reliant endangered species. The small population of about 1,400 individuals is threatened by human encroachment, very low levels of genetic variation, entanglement in fishing nets, marine debris, disease, and past commercial hunting for skins.

Monachus Monachus: desperate attempts in progress to save the last few seals hiding in dangerous sea caves

Also called the Mediterranean monk seal, it is possibly the rarest seal in the world. Its name translating to “alone, alone” in Greek, because it prefers to spend much of its life completely alone, except for when its time to mate. Although it used to be present across all of the Mediterranean, Black Sea and even parts of the Atlantic coast, there are only two colonies remaining which are isolated by thousands of miles: one in Cabo Blanco, off the coast of West Sahara on the Atlantic, and in northern Greece, where its habitat is a protected National Park. Globally we may be talking about 700 individuals or so. That’s it. The species is literally fighting through its last breath for survival.

A fugitive

The extremely shy animal is unfortunately avoiding open beaches as an adaptation strategy, being afraid for its safety and refusing to rear and lactate its pups in “public” areas such as open beaches. It spends most of its time in isolated caves, where most of the last individuals exist. However this presents a danger, as these caves are prone to flooding and rough oceans, which are believed to lead to a very high pup mortality rate. Although the species status has been elevated from critically endangered to endangered, the future is uncertain.

The National Marine Park of Alonnnisos in northern Greece is the site of one of the last populations. It is the largest marine protected area in Europe, established in 2003. Since 2007 a Marine Health Centre run by an organisation called MOm exists, (The Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk Seal), supported and endorsed by the EU.

Kostis, an undernourished rescued pup, was fighting for his life in 2018. On February 2019, Kostis was successfully released from MOm.

You can find out more about this and even adopt a seal through their website

Kostis, an undernourished rescued pup, seen fighting for his life in 2018

(Images do not represent the specic species discussed)

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