Mediterranean monk seal, Madeira
The Mediterranean monk seal is endangered, with current studies estimating its population at 350-450 individuals, despite once having a wide distribution throughout the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea and part of the Atlantic waters, from Morocco to Cabo Blanco (Mauritania) including the Canary Islands, Madeira, and the Azores.
Today, the distribution of the Mediterranean monk seal is highly fragmented and consists of 3-4 populations in the Mediterranean, especially in the Aegean Sea. In the Atlantic, only two populations survive, one in Cabo Blanco and another in the archipelago of Madeira.
The main causes for the decline of monk seal populations include habitat destruction, deaths due to interaction with fishermen, by-catch and a general increase in human pressure that has displaced the seal from its habitat. This species, which used to inhabit open beaches, has been forced to occupy increasingly marginal habitats, such as small sea caves unsuitable for breeding.
Loro Parque Fundación is involved in a project to tag Mediterranean monk seals in Madeira, using bracelets equipped with GPS receivers to track the animals and determine habitat use and whether there is any potential conflict with human activities. Coastal caves have also been monitored by photo-trapping to find out which ones are used for breeding. All the information gathered will help Madeira’s authorities to establish effective protection measures and protect this small sub-population, which is estimated to number just over 25 individuals.