Arxiu d'etiquetes: mediterranean monk seal

How many species live in the Mediterranean Sea and other curiosities

The Mediterranean Sea is a “sea in the middle of the land” (Mare medi terraneum, in Latin). Do you know how many species live in this small sea? Do you know which is the average and maximum depth? These and more questions are answered in this post and are going to show you the magnificence of this sea. 


Approximately 17,000 species have been reported to occur in the Mediterranean Sea. Did you think that they were more or less than 17,000? Of these, 26% are marine microbes (microorganisms), but it might be higher if we consider the very limited data available. If we just consider the animals, most of them are crustaceans (13.2%) and molluscs (12.4%), while vertebrates represent a small part (4.1%). Plants represent only a 5% of the amount of species. It’s important to highlight the presence of about 1,200 algae species, but authors have included them in the microbes and plants, despite they are not true plants.

Percentage of species in each group (Picture: Marc Arenas Camps).
Percentage of species in each group (Picture: Marc Arenas Camps).

These 17,000 species represent a 6.4% of the global species. Is this a lot or a little? If one considers that the Mediterranean Sea is only a 0.82% in surface area and 0.32% in volume as compared to the world oceans, draw conclusions yourself. It means that less than a 1% of the surface area of ocean have more than a 6% of the marine species! 

The average of the total endemics is about 20%. It means that 20% of the species in the Mediterranean Sea can be found only in the Mediterranean. Some examples are the famous seagrass Posidonia oceanica, the emblematic Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus), and the seaweed Rissoella verruculosa.

Posidonia oceanica is a very important species in the Mediterranean, which constitutes an ecosystem by itself (Picture: For Divers).
Posidonia oceanica is a very important species in the Mediterranean, which constitutes an ecosystem by itself (Picture: For Divers).

For all these reasons, the Mediterranean Sea is considered a hot spot of biodiversity, explained by paleogeographic and ecological reasons. From a paleogeographic point of view, its high species richness is due to both its long evolutionary history and the diversity pump from the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, from an ecological view, its species richness is due to the present-day variety of climatic and hydrologic situations, leading to the occurrence of temperate and subtropical species.

In this numbers, we have to add an additional 600 metazoan species. Who are they? The Mediterranean biodiversity is influenced by the introduction of 600 new species, which represent a 3.3% of the total estimates. In fact, this number is continuously increasing. Molluscs (33%), arthropods (18%) and chordates (17%) are the groups with more alien species. A well-known and toxic example is the blowfish.


The Mediterranean sea is the deepest enclosed sea on Earth. It has an average depth of 1,460 m and a maximum of 5,267 m. The deepest part of the sea is placed on the Matapan trench, in Greece. We can compare the average and the maximum depth in other enclosed seas to give some evidence: Baltic Sea ( 55 and 421 m respectively), North Sea (94 and 660 m), Black Sea (1,240 and 2,245 m) and Red Sea (491 and 3,040 m).

Mediterranean Sea bathymetry (Picture: CIBRA).
Mediterranean Sea bathymetry (Picture: CIBRA).

What happens when we compare the Mediterranean Sea with the Earth’s oceans? In my opinion, the “sea between the land” don’t stay behind, but let’s see the numbers (average and maximum depth): Pacific Ocean (4,001 and 11,034 m), Atlantic Ocean (3,605 and 8,605 m), Indian Ocean (3,854 and 7,455 m), Southern Ocean (4,500 and 7,235 m) and Arctic Ocean (1,430 and 5,625 m).


About 6 million years ago, towards the end of the Miocene, the Mediterranean Sea was isolated from the rest of the world ocean. Because of the Mediterranean sea has a negative water balance, it is that evaporation is higher than the entrance of water, it become almost desiccated and, probably, was transformed into a series of large evaporitic lakes during the salinity crisis at the Messinian Stage.

Mediterranean geography during the salinity crisis in the (Picture: Paubahi, Creative Commons).
Mediterranean geography during the salinity crisis in the Messinian stage (Picture: Paubahi, Creative Commons).

Probably, the landscape during the salinity crisis should have looked like the nowadays Dead Sea. This salinity crisis should have driven deep water fauna to extinction, but some of the shallow-water biota may have survived.

Probably, (Picture: AtlasTours.Net).
Probably, the landscape during the salinity crisis should have looked like the present Dead Sea (Picture: AtlasTours.Net).


The continental shelves of the Mediterranean are narrow and crossed by submarine canyons, so open sea represents a large area. In fact, 80% of the total Mediterranean waters are open ocean and can be classified as deep sea. An unusual characteristic is the high homothermy from 300-500 m to the seafloor (there is an homogeneous temperature of 12.8 – 13.5ºC in the western Mediterranean and 13.5 – 15.5ºC in the eastern Mediterranean).


  • Ballesteros E & Llobet T (2015). Fauna i flora de la mar Mediterrània. Ed. Brau
  • Bianchi CN & Morri C (2000). Marine Biodiversity of the Mediterranean Sea: Situation, Problems and Prospects for Future Research. Marine Pollution Bulletin. Vol. 40, No. 5, pp. 367-376
  • Coll M, Piroddi C, Steenbeek J, Kaschner K, Ben Rais Lasram F, et al. (2010) The Biodiversity of the Mediterranean Sea: Estimates, Patterns, and Threats. PLoS ONE 5(8): e11842. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011842
  • Hofrichter R (2004). El mar Mediterráneo. Fauna, Flora y Ecología: Guía sistemática y de identificación. Ed. Omega
  • Hofrichter R (2004). El mar Mediterráneo. Fauna, Flora y Ecología: Parte general. Ed. Omega
  • Hutchinson S & Hawkins LE (2005). Océanos. Biblioteca virtual. Scyla Editores
  • Main picture: got from Pinake.


Mediterranean Monk Seal: Until when will it survive?

In this post, we will do an approach to Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus), a critically endangered species that, in fact, is the most endangered pinniped species in the world. Here, we are going to do a short historical review and we are going to talk about its natural history, its habitat and distribution, its threats and status and, finally, its conservation. 


Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) is one of the three species included in the genus Monachus (Monk Seals). The other two species are Hawaiian Monk Seal (Monachus schauinslandi), which is critically endangered, and Caribbean Monk Seal (Monachus tropicalis), which is extinct.

mediterranean monk seal, monachus monachus
Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) (Photo: Sá, Wild Wonders of Europe)

Mediterranean Monk Seals were hunted for fur, oil and meat since Prehistory. Romans were responsible of an important decline, but thanks to the empire’ fall the animals were able to recover. More recently, the two world wars, the industrial revolution, the explosion of tourism and industrial fishing have produced the reduction and disappearance of the species in some regions.


When they are born, their length is 94 cm and their weight is 15-20 kg. Until weaning (at about 16-17 weeks), growth takes place fast. The pups’ pelt is soft and downy and the coat is black to dark brown, with a white patch in the belly.

Adult individuals have a length of 2.4 m (from nose to tail) and weigh 250-300 kg. Males are only slightly bigger than females. Juveniles and adults have very short hair. While adult males are black with a white patch in the belly, adult females are brown and grey with a lighter belly colouration. In any case, they can present more patches on the throat (males) and back (females).

Female individual of Mediterranean Monk Seal (Photo: Sá,
Female individual of Mediterranean Monk Seal (Photo: Sá, Wild Wonders of Europe)
Male individual of Mediterranean Monk Seal (Photo: Sá,
Male individual of Mediterranean Monk Seal (Photo: Sá, Wild Wonders of Europe)

Males and females reach sexual maturity between 5 and 6 years. After a gestation lasting 9-11 month, one pup is born (generally in autumn).

They feed on fish and cephalopods.


This species’ habitat is inaccessible caves with underwater entrances. The truth is that in ancient times, they inhabit open beaches of sand and rocks. Mediterranean monk seals can be found in warm temperate, subtropical and tropical waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the east Atlantic Ocean.

Mediterranean Monk Seal habitat
Mediterranean Monk Seal habitat (Photo: Sá, Wild Wonders of Europe)
Mediterranean Monk Seal on beach
Mediterranean Monk Seal on beach (Photo: Hellio & Van Ingen)

In ancient times, the species’ distribution was bigger than now. While now they just are present only in the northeast Mediterranean and in the northeast Atlantic, long ago they were present in all through the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, Atlantic coast of Africa and some Atlantic islands.

Distribution map of Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) (Picture:
Distribution map of Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) (Picture:


With just 350-450 individuals (maybe 550), the Mediterranean Monk Seal is one of the world’s most endangered marine mammals and is the most endangered pinniped species and it is described as critically endangered by IUCN.

Mediterranean Monk Seal is critically endangered, according to IUCN (Picture: IUCN).
Mediterranean Monk Seal is critically endangered, according to IUCN (Picture: IUCN).

The main threats against the species are:

  • Habitat degeneration and loss by development in the coast. The driving causes to this may be hunting, mass tourism, pleasure boats and diving. The result is that the caves occupied now are not adequate for their survival, so the recovery is only possible if they return to sandy beaches.
  • Killing them on purpose by fisherman and fish farm operators because they find it a nuisance that destroys their nets and steals their fish. In Greece, deliberate killing accounts for 43% of the deaths of adult and juvenile animals.
Deliberate killing of a Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) (Picture: A. Karamanlidis, MOm).
Deliberate killing of a Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) (Picture: E. Tounta, MOm).
  • Accidental entanglement in fishing gear. It is unknown if this has an important impact nowadays, but in the recent past it was and, in fact, it has played a significant role in the elimination of the species from some parts.
  • Decreased food availability due to overfishing. Malnourishment; susceptibility towards pathogens; affected growth, reproduction, juvenile survival and mortality rate and dispersion are the possible effects of this.
  • Unusual events: disease (like morbillivirus), toxic algae, rockslides, cave collapses or oil spills.
  • Pollution, maybe caused by organochlorine compounds used in pesticides.
  • Inbreeding depression, that results in reduced fecundity and pup survival. This factor is not a significant threat in the short term, but it can be a future threat because this causes reduced fertility, increased infant mortality and a distorted sex ratio.


Since 1970s, conservation measures have been developed, but the improvements are hardly seen. Conservation measures include:

  • Development of marine protected areas (MPA) in Madeira, Greece, Turkey and Cabo Blanco. In fact, what is necessary is a network of MPA.
  • Orphaned and hurt animals are rescued.
  • Educational programs.
  • Scientific investigation to identify its habitat areas.
  • International coordination of conservation activities.

On the other hand, ex situ conservation measures (like captive breeding and translocation) are not used because the species is so sensitive to human disturbance that it could be another threat.


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