Turning the Tide: The Remarkable Recovery of the Mediterranean Monk Seal

Friday, 26 Jan, 2024

Good news from the conservation front, as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently published an update on the conservation status of the Mediterranean Monk Seal in its Red Data list. This marine mammal, listed as “endangered” since 1986 and even categorized as “critically endangered” globally between 2008 and 2015, has shown a promising increase in population numbers. Since 2015, these efforts have borne fruit, elevating the seal's status from “endangered” to the less critical category of “vulnerable”.  Commentary by Sea Shepherd Global CEO, Alex Cornelissen.

A monk seal spotted in Greece in 2023. Photo by Sea Shepherd.

The monk seal’s recovery is a testament to the years of dedicated conservation efforts from governments and conservation groups.

Historically, these seals were found throughout the entire Mediterranean and Black Seas, along with the Archipelagos of the Canary, Madeira and Azores Islands, the northwestern coast of Africa, and the northeastern Atlantic's Iberian Peninsula.

The current monk seal population is estimated at about 450 to 600 mature individuals; found in three main clusters: two in the Atlantic and one in the Eastern Mediterranean. The population in Greek waters is witnessing the most rapid growth.

Last year we saw an increase in monk seal sightings, not only in Greek waters but also in the Aeolian Islands, just north of Sicily.

However, monk seal populations still face many threats on their road to recovery, including habitat destruction, the encroachment of tourism on their nesting sites, disease, pollution, and deadly encounters with fishing gear.Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to sustain and amplify our conservation efforts. Sea Shepherd’s campaigns in Italy and Greece not only contribute to the further recovery of the Mediterranean monk seal, but also protect its primary food source, the octopus. Learn more about these campaigns here: 

About the IUCN

Established in 1964, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the extinction risk status of animals like the Mediterranean Monk Seal. Read its updated assessment here:

Mediterranean Monk Seal. Photo by Harry Thomas.
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