Monachus monachusMediterranean monk seal

Geographic Range

Monachus monachus, also known as the Mediterranean Monk Seal, is found around the Mediterranean Sea region and the Northwest African Coast. There are populations that are located in Mauritania/Western Sahara, Greece, and Turkey. Small numbers have also been seen in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, the Portuguese Desertas Islands, Croatia, and Cyprus.


Mediterranean monk seals are usually found along coastal waters, especially on the coastlines of islands. They are sometimes found in caves with submarine entrances when the female is giving birth and just to get away from other disturbances, such as boats.

Physical Description

Adult Mediterranean monk seals can be any color from dark brown or black to light grey. They are usually light gray along the belly. Pups have a black woolly coat and a white or yellow patch on the belly. They molt at about 4-6 weeks and their black woolly coat is replaced by a silvery gray coat that can darken over time.

Adult males are on average about 2.4m in length and females are slightly shorter. Males weigh about 315 kg and females weigh about 300 kg.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Average mass
    300-315 kg
  • Average mass
    275000 g
    9691.63 oz
  • Average length
    2.4 m
    7.87 ft


Mediterranean monk seals mate during the months of September-November. Mating usually takes place in the water. They reproduce very slowly starting at the age of 4. The time between births is 13 months, and the gestation period is 11 months. Pups are born about 80-100 cm long and weigh 17-24 kg.

Sexual maturity is reached at about 4-6 years of age.

When females give birth, they go on the beach or in caves. A female will usually remain on the beach or in the cave nursing and protecting the pup for up to six weeks. During this time, the female must live off of stored fat because she never leaves the pup, not even to feed herself. The pup may remain with its mother for as long as 3 years even after weaning.

  • Breeding season
    Mediterranean monk seals mate during the months of September-November.
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    11 months
  • Average gestation period
    289 days
  • Range weaning age
    6 (high) weeks
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    4 to 6 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    4 to 6 years
  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents


These seals live up to 30 years of age.


The Mediterranean monk seal spends most of its time in a limited range; they don't migrate long distances. There can be up to 20 individuals in a colony of Mediterranean monk seals. On land, the seal is a solitary species.

In the water, they are very good divers and swimmers. They swim so well that they can outmaneuver a shark.

Communication and Perception

When communicating with each other they make very high pitched sounds. This is done mainly while in the water to let each other know if something is wrong or if danger is approaching.

Food Habits

Mediterranean monk seals are diurnal. They feed in shallow coastal waters on a large variety of fish. This includes eels, sardines, tuna, lobsters, flatfish, and mullets. They also feed on cephalopods such as octopuses.

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • mollusks

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In the past the Mediterranean monk seal was killed for its skin and body parts, which were said to provide protection against a variety of medical problems. The seal has also been killed for food.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The only way that Mediterranean monk seals affect humans negatively is that compete with fishermen. These seals are mainly harmless otherwise.

Conservation Status

Fewer than 500 individuals of Mediterranean monk seals remain in the world today. They have been killed by fisherman who see them as competition, and many have been lost due to being caught in fishermans' nets. Pollution and boat traffic are also a problem for this species. Pollution comes mainly from human waste. This waste gets into the water in which the seals live and into the food that they eat. The problem with boat traffic is from a lot of boats being in the same area that the seals occupy, resulting at worst in collisions between seals and boats

Other Comments

This seal is one of the world's rarest mammals, and it is on the list of the 20 most endangered species.

Another issue with the seal is that it is very sensitive to disturbances. Pregnant females are especially sensitive and will often abort when disturbed.


Melody Benton (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


Atlantic Ocean

the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.

World Map


living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats fish

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


1999. "Seal Conservation Society. Mediterranean Monk Seal" (On-line). Accessed January 12, 2005 at

Fertl, D. 1996. "African Marine Mammals, Mediterranean Monk Seal" (On-line). Accessed January 12, 2005 at

Jefferson, T., S. Leatherwood, M. Webber. 1994. FAO Species Identification Guide, Marine Mammals of the World. Rome: United Nations Environment Programme.

Kasnoff, C. 1999. "In The Wild" (On-line). Accessed December 10, 1999 at

Leatherwood, S., R. Reeves, B. Stewart. 1992. The Sierra ClubHandbook of Seals and Sirenians. San Francisico, CA: Sierra Club Books.

Riedman, M. 1990. The Pinnipeds Seals, Sea Lions, and Walruses. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.