There are several species of monk seals, one of which completely disappeared from the face of the earth just 70 years ago. As for the other two, they are threatened with imminent extinction. Let’s find out who exactly these mammals of the genus are Monachus and take stock of the serious dangers that now weigh on them.
Monk seal: main characteristics
It exists three species of monk seals. These mammals of the genus Monachus belong to the family of Phocidae. It’s about Caribbean monk seal also called Tropical seal, of Mediterranean monk seal and Hawaiian monk seal.
The first species, which was found in the West Indies and the Gulf of Mexico, has been extinct since the 1950s, which was confirmed in 2008 after research carried out by scientists for 5 years and at the end of which no living specimen of the species was not found. As for the two other species of monk seals, they are in imminent danger of total extinction. These animals are therefore extremely rare today.
The Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) is a semi-aquatic marine mammal. Its legs are shaped like fins. It is therefore a pinnipede, just like the sea lion for example. It can be found on the coasts of Western Sahara, Mauritania and Madeira, that is to say in the Mediterranean (hence its name) where it is the only pinniped. Its diet sometimes consists of algae, but mainly fish, crustaceans and molluscs.
This animal reproduces mainly between September and November. After a gestation period of eleven months, a female gives birth to a single offspring per litter, which still weighs around twenty kilograms at birth.
The Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus shauinslandi) is originally from the Hawaiian archipelago, located in Oceania, with the main point of concentration being the immediate vicinity of the Leeward Islands. It is also a endemic animal of this geographic area. Her longevity is about thirty years old. In adulthood, the male weighs less than 170 kg for a length of 2.10 m while the female, larger and heavier, displays a length of 2.25 m for a weight of 200 kg. In this species also, each female gives birth to only one young per litter, after 11 months of gestation.
For both species, a baby seal is breastfed by her mother during its first 8 weeks of life, at the end of which its birth weight is multiplied by 4. Although it grows very quickly, the seal does not reach its sexual maturity until about 5 years old. Note also that a seal has vibrissae in the muzzle, sensory organs that it uses to locate its prey.
A serious threat hangs over the Monk Seal
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a extremely serious threat weighs on the different species of monk seals still existing. Thus, there are less than 1,200 Hawaiian monk seals and less than 500 individuals belonging to the Mediterranean species, which is one of the ten most endangered animal species on the planet.
The monk seals are all in great danger of death, and in a few years, our children and grandchildren will only be able to observe them while leafing through books. We will then have to explain to them that man has always been the main threat to these animals, and that cohabitation between them has never been beneficial for seals.
Only a century ago, the Mediterranean monk seal was still very present in its area of existence, but the fact that the number of individuals has decreased from year to year has favored the consanguinity which ended up weighing extremely heavily on this species. Indeed, genetic mixing must be sufficient to guarantee the sustainability of a species. Otherwise, it becomes more and more susceptible to epidemics and other threats that decimate people very quickly. The Hawaiian Monk Seal is no exception to the rule with fewer than 1,000 living specimens today.
The monk seal today pays a heavy price because of the sea pollution which is increasing year by year, and causing more and more diseases in these animals. We can also incriminate the outrageous use of fishing nets in which many seals die, but also overfishing which only gradually deprived the seals of food. It should also be noted that out of stupidity, men attack seals – hunting them en masse or killing them – because they are convinced that these animals are their rivals for fishing. This is a complete misunderstanding of these species, especially since there are very few individuals left today.
Anyway, it is difficult to study the mores of seals which could allow us to have a much better knowledge of their way of life, of their needs. What we do know, however, is that these sedentary marine mammals have had to evolve by modifying some of their behaviors in order to be able to best adapt to being hunted by human populations.
Today we are witnessing a real disaster, and despite the measures taken to protect the Monk Seal, nothing allows us to hope to be able to save them from extinction.