Mediterranean Monk Seal Secret

SUBHEAD: Biologists find endangered seals secret Greek island. By Stephen Messenger on 3 January 2011 for TreeHugger - ( Image above: Mediterranean monk seals. From original article.

It's never been easy being an endangered species -- particularly nowadays, what with all the people encroaching upon their native hangouts or clamoring for a rare peek at them. But despite all that, one group of highly endangered monk seals has managed to find some much needed solace on the beaches a remote island in Greece, far from the prying eyes of lookers-on. Biologists, however, have recently uncovered the seals' secret refuge -- though mum's the word on where exactly they're hiding.

While some seals are quite cavalier when it comes to hanging out where humans live, Mediterranean monk seals are understandably shy. As one of the most endangered marine species on the planet, only about 600 individuals are thought to still be in existence -- and they're doing their best to remain undisturbed.

Biologists say that human activity has deterred most of the endangered monk seals from their natural behavior of resting on beaches around the Mediterranean, driving them to settle difficult to access coastal caves where they can raise their young in peace. But, a recently discovered colony of seals on one particular Greek island has researchers optimistic that some sense of normality may exist yet for the threatened species.

Though for any animal lover who might relish a peek at the endangered animals in their secret refuge, biologists are disappointingly tight-lipped as to where it can be found. "It is human disturbance that has caused the species to retreat to inaccessible caves," said Alexandros Karamanlidis, who studies Monk seals. "So this place is incredibly important - the seals feel so secure that they go out on to open beaches."

It seems, however, that a possible salvation for the species may lie on this undisclosed island. Scientists say that breeding success has declined for the monk seals since they've been forced away from their natural breeding grounds into spots where their offspring are more likely to perish due to violent weather.

Just a little peace and quite, it seems, goes a long way when it comes to raising a family of seal pups. A report from the BBC explains:

The number of seal pups born annually in the newly discovered colony on this tiny island is amongst the highest recorded anywhere in the Mediterranean Sea.

The team has placed cameras on the island to study the seals remotely.

The area's popularity with tourists has gradually driven the animals away from other beaches, and the scientists hope to stop the same thing happening on this island.

Like most places in the world, the seals' island hideaway is threatened by the same pleasure-seeking humans habits that drove so many other member of the endangered species away from their usual habitat -- but biologists are working so that the same thing won't happen to this particular seal beach-goers. "The seals only survive in Greece because we have these isolated islands that people do not have access to," said Dr Karamanlidis. "So we're trying to make this a place where [the animals] feel secure."

In other words, their lips are sealed.


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