Mediterranean Monk Seals (Monachus Monachus) are the most endangered of the pinniped species and are on the brink of extinction. Their total population stands at less than 600 animals. Fishermen have persecuted these seals for centuries, blaming them for damaging nets and competing for the same harvest. The IUCN lists them as critically endangered and they appear on Appendix I of CITES. They are listed on both Appendices I & II of the Bonn Convention, Appendix II of the Bern Convention and Annexes II & IV of the European Community’s Habitats Directive. Pollution, disease, food shortages and environmental factors all conspire against their future survival which looks bleak at best.
In 1990-1994, the French government planned to start a captive breeding program for Mediterranean Monk Seals. This was met with strong opposition from the scientific community, on the basis of the poor track record of maintaining Monk seals in captivity.
Due to the low number of pups being born, and even fewer making it to sexual maturity, rescue and rehabilitation of orphaned pups has become an important conservation tool.
These seals have been hunted not only for their meat and fur, but also by people who believe they have medicinal properties and are able to ward off or cure a variety of ailments.
The demise of the Mediterranean Monk Seal was accelerated by their regular capture for zoos and outdoor fairs popular in the 1970’s
Loss of habitat, human interference, entanglement, disease, increased tourism, competition for reduced food resources, pollution and illegal hunting all play a major role in their decline.
In ancient Greece, they were placed under the protection of Poseidon and Apollo because of their love of the sun. One of the first coins minted, around 500 BC depicts the head of a Monk seal.