Mediterranean monk seal
The Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus, is one of the most endangered marine mammals worldwide. The monk name was proposed by naturalist Johann Hermann in 1779, and was based his verbal descriptions of the shoulders and head of the animal which resembled to a monk with a robe and a hood.
Due to the nature of the animal which showed confidence in humans, it was approached very easily and so it was hunted for its skin, meat and fat. While in early antiquity hunting remained at levels that didn't threaten the survival of the species, during the Roman years seal hunting increased rapidly and this went on during Middle Ages. Gradually this drove the remaining animals to change their lifestyle and to leave the beaches and rocky coastlines to seek refuge under cliffs and coastal caves, οften with underwater entrance.
The spread of the Monachus monachus species historically included the entire Mediterranean and North Atlantic, part of the Azores to the Equator. Sadly, today it is limited to 250-300 animals in Greece, in the Ionian and Aegean Islands and Turkey. In the Atlantic, 2 reproducing populations were detected, in different regions with a total of about 150 animals. The threats to the survival of the species today include: loss of habitat from reckless development in coastal areas, disturbance arising from tourism and from use of recreational motorboats, deliberate killing by fishermen or fish farmers who consider seals an enemy because they eat fish and destroy their nets. Additional threats include: accidentally getting trapped in nets and therefore drown, reduced food availability due to over-fishing as well as the outbreak of epidemics.
Females mature sexually at 4-6 years, they give birth to one individual in small caves or remote beaches with restricted access from land. They give birth nearly always in the autumn. Newborns weigh about 15-20 kg and are 0.80-0, 90 m long. They are black with a white abdominal patch which varies in different sexes and in each individual. Adults are brown to grey, males are more black at the top and more pale on their belly, whereas the white abdominal patch remains for all their life. The length and weight of adult males reaches 2.8 m and 250-300 kg respectively, whereas females are slightly smaller and lighter. Their food consists of fish and cephalopods. A great support for the conservation of the Mediterranean monk Seal is the organization and management of protected areas, such as the "Northern Sporades National Marine Park" in Greece.