News Release

Best breeding season yet for Mediterranean Monk Seal colony

27 November 2014
67 baby monk seals were born this season. In this photo is a mother with a two month old calf
Photo: M.Cedenilla / CBD-Habitat

Mercedes Muñoz Cañas, Project Technician with SOS Grantee CBD-Habitat, an IUCN Member, shares encouraging news from the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) sanctuary at Cabo Blanco, Mauritania.

So far the project team have counted 67 seal births at the colony and the 2014 breeding season has not yet closed! According to Mercedes this is a new record for the “Costa de las focas“ - a sanctuary that constitutes the biggest hope for the recovery of this Critically Endangered species.

The "Costa de las focas” is a terrestrial-maritime reserve that protects the three breeding caves for approximately half the total world population of Mediterranean monk seals. Since conservation work began in the late 1990s, the colony’s population has more than doubled from 109 to 250 animals. Significantly the average annual birth rate has also doubled from 30 to 60 in more recent years.

Since conservation work began the colony’s population has more than doubled from 109 to 250 animals. Photo: M.Cedenilla / CBD-HabitatAll these successes would not have been possible without daily surveillance, asserts Mercedes. To recover through normal breeding, the seals first must be free from human disturbance. Meanwhile nearby, lies Nouadhibou, the second largest city in Mauritania with a population that is growing.

Before the reserve was created in 2001, many barnacle collectors, line fishermen and fishing pirogues (sea going Undisturbed by human presence normal breeding and rearing behaviours can occur. Photo: M.Cedenilla / CBD-Habitatcanoes) were active in the vicinity of the colony’s breeding caves. This created stressful and dangerous situations for the monk seals.

While there was no direct interaction harming the species, the human activity was occurring inside and around the Control and monitoring of the colony from the cliffs above the caves. Photo: O. Muñoz / CBD-Habitatarea where the seals lived, scaring them away and leaving firstborn pups alone during breeding seasons. The presence of fishing gear in the water compounded this problem – inexperienced pups and youngsters were more at risk of becoming entangled and even drowning as a result.

This short film shows just how real the problem of entanglement can be for young Mediterranean monk seals:

Entanglement in fishing nets threatens younger seals in particular. Photo: CBDThus, while 67 new pups sets a record and shines a candle against the looming shadow of extinction, the ongoing work of surveillance and awareness raising must also continue.

Ensuring minimal human activity in the reserve, especially closer to the breeding caves is key according to Mercedes. But it is just part of the longer-term solution. To learn more about this project please click here.

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