17 February 2010

Monk seal birth filmed

The Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus), one of the world’s most endangered marine mammals, has been observed giving birth for the first time in the eastern Mediterranean.

Thanks to an automatic 24-h infrared monitoring system installed in one reproductive cave at Kimolos island, Greece, researchers from MOm (Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk Seal) were able to document two births as well as the postpartum behaviour.

The videos highlighted two threats related to the lactation period. In one occasion, bad sea conditions deteriorated so much that one pup was repeatedly washed away from her mother. Nothing happened to the pup thanks to the mother’s care: she moved the pup to a safer part of the cave and used her body to 'brake' the incoming waves.

The second threat occurred when a person entered the cave. A mother was so frightened that, in an attempt to escape, she trampled over her newborn pup. Fortunately the pup was not injured but the mother left it alone for seven hours.

Temporary mother-pup separation due to bad weather conditions or human disturbance, is the main cause of death for young Mediterranean monk seals. Work by MOm will help design more effective conservation measures.


Photo: a monk seal mother with her male newborn (from Karamanlidis et al. 2010)

Karamanlidis A.A., Paravas V., Trillmich F., Dendrinos P. 2010. First observations of parturition and postpartum behavior in the Mediterranean monk seal (
Monachus monachus) in the Eastern Mediterranean. Aquatic Mammals 36(1):27-32.

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