The Mediterranean monk seal, an endangered species

The monk seal, a rare Mediterranean species, is in critical danger of extinction on a world-wide level. The CBD Habitat foundation protects the species and is monitoring the colony in Mauritania. These seals nest in the caves at the bottom of the steep cliffs of the Cap Blanc peninsular. The Petzl Foundation supports this project, in which verticality techniques are used to preserve biodiversity.


Monk seals playing in the water © CBD Habitat


  • Project partner:  Fundación CBD-Habitat,
  • Country:  Mauritania, Africa
  • Project type: Preservation of the environment
  • Budget: €10,500 from 2011 to 2013

Picto Info Formerly, the monk seal was present in the Mediterranean Sea, from Turkey to Cape Verde. The indiscriminate hunting of which it was the victim for centuries and the current deterioration of coastlines (construction of hotels and housing) have reduced the population to 500 remaining individuals spread unevenly between Greece, Turkey, Madeira Islands and the peninsula of Cap Blanc, in Mauritania.

One of the most endangered mammals in the world

Due to the deterioration of its habitat, half of the world population (approximately 250 individuals) now focuses on the cliffs of the peninsula of Cap Blanc, where it is exposed to the dangers of the tides: the violence of the waves leading to the pups' enforced separation from their mothers induces a high mortality rate among monk seal pups.

Monk seal and her baby

Nevertheless, the creation of classified areas such as "marine and coastal protected areas" has already helped to double the size of this colony since 1998 (110 individuals in 1998, 200 in 2009), and the number of births (24 pups in 1998 and 51 in 2009).

The CBD-Habitat Foundation's actions should lead to the extension of these protected areas.

Naturalists access the caves

These caves are very difficult to access for the naturalists studying this sea mammal. Climbing equipment is essential to enable the scientists to reach the seals. They have to be lowered down into cavities to be able to identify babies and complete ringing operations.

Satellite monitoring necessary for the survival of the species

The identification of the seals' movement is a priority and an essential step in identifying the areas they congregate, particularly feeding, resting and breeding areas. The GPS tagging of individuals is the most effective method to monitor their movements.

To reach the beaches and caves where seals live, the CBD-Habitat Foundation scientists often descend cliffs, using climbing and caving techniques.

For the first time, in November 2011 a GPS was installed on a male adult monk seal. Individuals are tagged by attaching a bracelet to the base of their tailfin while they are asleep, in order to disturb them as little as possible.

© CBD Habitat © CBD Habitat
Tagging operation

This system will enable scientists to monitor its movements accurately, with up to 226 GPS readings in 64 days. Using this tracking system, scientists have established the deep sea hunting routes of these seals and the various movements of the animals in the caves.

Mediterranean monk seal: zone of hunting has nearness of the coast   Zone of hunting has nearness of the coast

The Mediterranean monk seal

The Mediterranean monk seal © CBD Habitat Scientific Name: monachus monachus
Size: 2 to 3 m
Weight: 200 to 300 kg
Diet: mainly fish and also shellfish, cuttlefish, octopus, prawns and lobsters. It can also feed on algae. An adult seal eats 15 kg of fish each day.
Habitat deterioration: In the past, monk seals lived on sandy beaches or small rocky coves, but increasing human disturbance has forced them to flee towards rocky shores, which put their survival in great danger.

For more information:

The CBD-Habitat Foundation is based in Spain. Its goal is to preserve biodiversity, especially endangered species and their habitats such as the Iberian lynx and the Iberian imperial eagle. For over 10 years this foundation has worked for the preservation of the monk seal. An UICN member since June 2010, it has projects in Spain, but also Mauritania, Morocco and Guinea Bissau.

For more information see the monk seal conservation program site

Updated in september 2014



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