Efforts to save the endangered Mediterranean monk seal in Greece receive international recognition
The Mediterranean monk seal is one of the most endangered marine mammals on Earth. Long known to the people of the Mediterranean and first described by Aristotle, the species endured centuries of exploitation and habitat destruction, which ultimately led it to the brink of extinction. But now, the concentrated conservation efforts to save the species that were initiated 30 years ago seem to be finally paying off. In 2015, the Mediterranean monk seal was delisted from “Critically Endangered” to “Endangered” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red Data Species List.
One of the grass-root conservation organizations involved in the protection of the Mediterranean monk seal is the MOm/Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk seal. Founded by biologists from the University of Athens, MOm has been working tirelessly since 1988 to prevent the extinction of monk seals in Greece and carries out systematic efforts in research, public awareness and environmental education. The organization also carries out the only rehabilitation program for stranded, injured and sick monk seal pups!
The efforts of MOm have now been recognized internationally, as Dr. Alexandros Karamanlidis, the scientific coordinator of MOm, has been awarded the Society for Marine Mammalogy "Conservation Merit" prize for his work to protect the Mediterranean monk seal. The award, which is awarded for an exceptional contribution toward solving a pressing conservation problem and is presented only for the second time, will be given to Dr. Karamanlidis on October 26 at the 22nd Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in Halifax, Canada.
"It is an immense honor for me as a biologist and an important international distinction for Greece, since the award is handed out for the second time, but also recognition of MOm's work for the protection of the endangered Mediterranean monk seal," says Dr. Karamanlidis.
We hope that the award will lead to greater recognition of MOm's work by the state, and to more state action to protect the seal that is the symbol of Mediterranean biodiversity.
The Mediterranean monk seal has stepped down a category in the endangered species list
After 25 years of systematic efforts to preserve the species, the first results are now starting to show, as IUCN announced that, according to particular biological criteria, the Mediterranean monk seal “steps down” one category in the endangered species list, from “critically endangered” to … “endangered”.
This positive outcome was based on the scientific reassessment of the species requested by IUCN from the special investigators of MOm, who, in cooperation with experts from around the world gathered and evaluated the most recent data regarding the preservation status of the Mediterranean monk seal in at least three of the four basic expansion areas of the species, among which is Greece, while at the same time our knowledge and expertise regarding the biology and the threats to the species have vastly improved. What seems to be playing a significant role in the betterment of the species’ status is the now positive attitude by the majority of the citizens as a result of the informing taken place during environmental education and their overall sensitization.
However, experts point out that the danger of the species’ extinction is still there as the populations are still small and fragile while most of the main threats for the species are still dominant, as the degrading of its habitat and the competition with fisheries. Therefore, systematic and coordinated efforts by the Greek State are immensely important and required in many sectors especially in that of the most efficient protection of the species’ habitat.
Injured monk seal in Faliro
The past few days in the southern shores of Athens’ suburbs (mainly from Agios Kosmas to Faliro), an adult male monk seal has been appearing. “Kosmas” as we named him, is exhausted and carries a recent bad trauma in the rear left flipper, he has lost a lot of weight and is probably a senior. MOm is monitoring the situation of the animal in cooperation with the veterinarian in charge Mrs. Natassa Komninou, and the animal has already been injected with the proper dosage of long lasting antibiotic. Since these shores and beaches are used by many of our fellow citizens daily, it is important that we do not forget the facts below:
Seals, unlike dolphins, get to shore often to rest, where they can remain for many hours with no problem whatsoever. Therefore, if you come across Kosmas on a beach please follow the following instructions:
Do not approach the seal at a distance shorter than thirty meters. If you wish to observe from a distance quietly and take pictures is acceptable, since you will be given the opportunity to witness one of the rarest mammals of this planet and the only seal species of the Mediterranean.
Never try to force the animal back to the sea, and most importantly, do not try to get it wet. The seal has chosen to be on land because she needs rest and peace.
Do not let children run close to it or touch it. It is dangerous, because the animal will be annoyed and scared and there is a serious chance to try and bite. Consider the ugly trauma in its flipper (a whole chunk is missing), possibly caused by the bite of another male animal, and you will get the picture of what kind of damage the teeth of an adult seal can do.
Do not let any pets near it.
All stray dogs and other animals must be kept away.
Inform us on its position.
We would like to thank all of the citizens that have, with great care and interest, been informing us immediately, the Port Authorities, the Palaio Faliro City Hall, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, The THALASSA Foundation, as well the Attica Zoo Park for their support.
Rescue of an orphaned newborn monk seal pup in Skopelos island
On Saturday the 15th of November, MOm’s Rescue Team was informed by Mrs Niki Lemoni, member of the Veterinary Network of ARION, Cetacean Rescue & Rehabilitation Research Center, that a newborn female Mediterranean monk seal was stranded orphaned in Velanio beach at Skopelos, North Sporades.. Mr Andreas Aggelopoulos, resident of Skopelos, found the young pup and immediately informed the island’s veterinary, Mrs Lemoni who performed the initial health examinations on the animal.
The overall clinical and veterinary condition of the pup indicates that it has been alone, without its mother, for at least five days. It should be also noted that a week ago, MOm was informed on a dead stranded adult female monk seal, which probably is the pup’s mother.
On Sunday the 16th of November, the young pup was transferred to Athens with the support of the Port Police authorities of Skopelos island. The orphaned pup is currently treated at MOm’s Mediterranean monk seal First Aid Unit, which has been kindly provided by Attica Zoological Park.
The results of the first veterinary tests have shown that the pup's condition is critical. it is dehydrated and has symptoms of a respiratory infection. The pup weighs only 13 kilograms, and is approximately 15 days old.
The pup has already been began MOm's intensive treatment program, under the supervision of Dr. Natassa Komninou, professor of Veterinary school of the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki.
It should be mentioned that its veterinary condition is still considered critical, and for the next 10 days of its treatment the unforeseen difficulties and the young pup's response will be deciding for overall progress and success of its rehabilitation.
We would like to warmly thank for their support and contribution in the rescue of the monk seal pup, Mr Andreas Aggelopoulos, Mrs Niki Lemoni, the Cetacean Rescue & Rehabilitation Research Center ARION and its Veterinary Network, the Animal Hospital in Pikermi, as well as the Port Police authorities of Skopelos island.
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