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a cat that is lying down in the dark

Mediterranean Monk Seal
(Monachus monachus)

In Madeira this species is also known as “Lobo-marinho”, a name given to the resident colony in Madeira by early explorers.

In ancient times, they were abundant in high numbers on the islands south coast with Câmara do Lobos (“bed of sea wolves”) in fact named after the big colony that once resided in this bay.

Since this early times, Monk Seals were hunted and soon their numbers declined dramatically and their long life cycle and high vulnerability only allows a very slow recovery of populations.

Today,  the species is perhaps the most endangered pinniped in the world.

General information

Further names: Portuguese: Lobo-marinho

Size of adults: Males up to 2,50 m, females smaller

Prey: Eat a diversity of fish, crustaceans and molluscs (octopus, squid)

Behaviour and life cycle: They hunt in coastal areas at depths of 50-70 m or in shallower water. They breed in secluded coastal areas such as rocky shores, making observations rare. Females reach sexual maturity around the age of 3-5 years and males with 4-5 years. Copulation occurs in the water but females come ashore to give birth, often choosing sheltered caves to protect their young. Gestation time is from 9-11 months. The amount of offspring per year depends largely on the availability of  food and physical state of the female but in general consists of one calf a year. Calves are suckled for about 4 months. 

Distinctive features: Long slender body with short flippers, small flat forehead; uniformly dark brown dorsal colour and lighter ventral colour. 

Habitat and range: Monk Seals live in tropical and tempered waters. Their general distribution of Monachus monachus: Mediterranean sea and northwestern Africa.

Distribution Madeira: mainly seen in inshore waters of the Desertas Islands (Nature Reserve) and the waters between Madeiras Southeast and the Desertas Islands. At present, there are approximately 40 individuals on the Desertas, probably the only population experiencing growth worldwide. Every now and then, which has a rate of growth; every now and then, there are sightings even around Madeira’s south coast. 

Order: Pinnipedia; Family: Phocidae (True seals); Genus: Monachus (Monk seals).

Altogether there are three distinctive species of Monk Seals:
– Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus, Hermann, 1779) are estimated to have a worldwide population of less than 500 individuals. Hawaiian-Monk Seal (Monachus schauinslandi, Matschi, 1905) estimated population worldwide 500-1000 individuals. Caribbean Monk Seal (Monachus tropicalis, Grey, 1850) believed to be extinct (last confirmed sighting was 1952).

Threats: destruction of natural habitat; growing marine pollution; overfishing and disturbance by touristy activities like scuba-diving. Local population listed as critically endangered by IUCN.

Protective measures Madeira: Nature Reserve of the Desertas Islands established in 1992.