The Mediterranean Monk Seal (scient. Monachus monachus) is one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world, with a few hundred animals remaining. The name comes from the folds of the neck that remind the monk robes or from its round head covered with short hairs, giving it the appearance of a medieval friar. The name may also reflect the fact that it lives a solitary existence relative to other species that collect in large colonies.
This species lives mainly in Greek seas, although there are other important populations in the Mediterranean, such as in Madeira, Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, Cyprus and the Atlantic Sea (Mauritania). In Crete, the population is very small compared to the rest of the Aegean Sea (islands Alonissos, Yaros, Karpathos, Kimolos, etc.), but it still needs protection.
In Crete, seals nest almost all over the island. Known areas where seals live are the cavernous shores east of Skaleta, Koufonisi islet, Gavdos islet, Sfakia area, the peninsula and the islets of Gramvousa, Chrissi islet, Cape Drapanos in Chania (eg Elephant Cave), Xerokambos and the shores south of Asterousia Mountains.
The body of the seal has a length of 2.0 - 2.4 meters, while the weight reaches 300kg. They feed on small fish, lobsters and octopus and they can dive till 150m. They do not move too far from the coast, as other seal species, and usually find refuge in tiny beaches formed inside secluded caves, always far from humans. They live up to 30 years, and females give birth to one pup each year.
Babies are born black with a white mark on the bell but after two months they change color and become gray or beige, like the adult seals. In particular, adult females have colors ranging between beige, brown and silver gray, with lighter shades in the belly, while males are dark gray or black with a small white area on the belly.
Over the last century their numbers have declined dramatically. They were mostly killed by fishermen, who thought that they ate fish from nets. Moreover, the seals live in remote places and isolated beaches, the number of which has decreased due to human presence almost everywhere. Finally, many areas have fewer fish because of pollution or overfishing, and thus monk seals can no longer find food. Indeed, the existence of a seal in a place indicates that the local marine ecosystem is clean and healthy, while the extinction of a seal shows the degradation of the local environment.
Monk seals were declared in 1981 as endangered species and now belong to the critically endangered animals. Unfortunately, there has not been designated a place of protection in Crete, such as in the National Marine Park of Alonissos. Moreover, in 1992 was founded the important environmental organization "Greek Society for the study and protection of marine seal (MOM)” for the protection of seals, which operates successfully till today.