The total population of the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) that remains today is estimated to consist of approximately 700 individuals, of which about 400 live in the Mediterranean basin.
Its former distribution range extended throughout the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Atlantic coasts of NW Africa including the Canary islands, Madeira and the Azores. Homer describes vast herds of seals lying on the beaches, while Proteus, a sea god, would daily come out of the sea counting them in groups.
When thro’ the Zone of heav’n the mounted sun
Hath journeye’d half, and half remains to run;
The Seer, while Zephyrus curl the swelling deep,
Basks on the breezy shore, in grateful sleep,
His oozy limbs. Emerging from the wave,
The Phocae swift surround his rocky cave,
Frequent and full…
Odyssey, Book IV, 404-409
Today, however, these charming animals have disappeared from extensive regions of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
In some Mediterranean areas only a handful still exist.
Actively reproducing monk seal populations are found mainly in Greece and Turkey (approximately 350) as also in Mauritania (330 photo-identified animals) and Madeira (ca. 40).
Apart of these well-known populations, the species is considered extinct or of unknown status in large parts of its former range.
Unless effective measures are taken promptly in the entire Mediterranean, the monk seal will disappear altogether in the next couple of decades, and our sole reminder of them will be legends and fairy tales.