The Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus)

The most significant species in terms of conservation, in the Northern Karpathos – Saria protected area, is the Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus). The Mediterranean Monk Seal is the most critically endangered marine mammal species in Europe and is included in the top-ten list of the most endangered species worldwide. It is also included in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Threatened Species Catalogue (IUCN 1996) as well as the “Red Book of Threatened Vertebrates of Greece” (Hellenic Zoological Society 1992) and the 67/1981 Presidential Decree fauna species list.

The Mediterranean Monk Seal’s figure, with its dark skin and its thick nape, resembles a hooded monk’s figure; a characteristic trait that led to its scientific name “Monachus monachus”.

The Mediterranean Monk Seal is large, it can reach 3 meters in length and 300 kg in weight. It has a characteristic fusiform body shape with flippers, acoustic openings at the upper sides of the head and long whiskers on its snout that serve as a sensory organ. Its skin is covered by short hair, about half centimeter long, usually black, dark brown or grey on the back and pale grey on the abdomen. The animal can be seen swimming on its side.

Gender Differences

The average adult male is a little bigger and heavier than the adult female (male: 2,4 m length, 315 kg weight – female: 2,0-2,4 m length, 300 kg weight). Other differences concern the skin colour. Females usually appear in variations between brown and buff or silvery grey, with lighter hues on the abdomen. Males usually appear dark grey or black with an obvious white patch on the abdomen.


The Mediterranean monk seal’s reproductive system is presumed to be moderately polygynous, with males being very territorial where they mate with females. Pregnancy occurs annually or biennially, lasts almost 10 months and yields one pup. Lactation lasts up to 3 or 4 months. In the wild, Mediterranean monk seals may live up to thirty years. Reproduction maturity is reached at the age of 5 or 6 by the males, at the age of 3 or 4 by the females. The monk seals' pups are about a meter long and weigh around 15-18 kg. Their skin is covered by 1-1.5 centimeter-long, dark brown to black hair. On their bellies, there is a wide white stripe, which differs in shape between the two sexes.

Mobility – Diet

The species shows a great mobility, which is reflected in its diving, orientation and sea hunting ability. Recent scientific research shows that Mediterranean monk seals can cover large distances within a few months (over 150 nautical miles within three months). Diet comprises a great variety of fish and mollusks like octopuses, squids and cuttlefish. Its daily food demand can reach up to the 3 – 5 kg of prey. Search for food involves daily trips of several miles and regular diving up to 120 meters depth, something that the young individuals start practicing just a few months after their birth.

Presence in Greece

Greece hosts the larger Mediterranean monk seal population which is estimated from 200 to 300 individuals (IUCN 1998). The species is widely distributed throughout the Greek marine territory and can be found in the Northern Sporades archipelago (National Marine Park of Alonissos Northern Sporades), Northwestern Cyclades (Kimolos – Polyaigos insular complex), Ionian Sea (Zakynthos, Cephalonia, Paxoi) and Dodecanese archipelago (Kasos, Karpathos). The Northern Karpathos and Saria protected area is identified as a very significant habitat for the Mediterranean monk seal, due to the availability of suitable coastal refuges, which the species use as resting or breeding places. The local population is estimated to exceed 30 – 35 individuals, juveniles excluded (MOm 2009).


The main threat for the species is the lack of suitable sites for resting and breeding and disturbance by unrestrained and haphazard resort development. Moreover intense fishing practices, like trawling or purse-seine fishing, jeopardize the fisheries sustainability and consequently the food supply for the Mediterranean monk seal.

Without doubt the Mediterranean monk seal is a significant element of the marine biodiversity of Greece and as such its presence serves as an index of the marine environment equilibrium.

Terrestrial and marine invertebrates

Greek endemic species of terrestrial invertebrates that occur within the boundaries of the protected area are the gastropods Albinaria unicolor, Cecilioides sp., Pyramidula chorismenostoma, Vitrea clessini and Zonites sariae, as well as the orthopteran Rhacocleis silvestri and the coleopteran Danacaea insularis.

Marine invertebrates of special scientific interest are the bivalve Arca Noae, or commonly Noah’s Arc, and the bivalve Pina nobilis, or commonly Pina, whose population in the area is one of the greatest in southern Aegean. The Pina is protected by the european legislation, as a species of the ANNEX IV of the 92/43/EEC.

Cave fauna

There are two major caves at the Northern Karpathos and Saria protected area; the “St. John’s cave” at Vroukounda (currently used as a chapel) and a second a short distance from Olympos village (visible from the Pigadia Olympos road / 400m altitude). Species of interest found in St. John’s cave are the isopods Chaetophiloscia cellaria and Bathytropa granulata and the endemic orthopteron Discoptila kinzelbachi. The following species have been observed at the Olympos cave: the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) – included in the Bern Convention’s Appendix II- and the mammals Bicolored Shrew (Crocidura leucodon) and Lesser Mouse-eared Bat (Myotis blythii), which are protected by the 67/1981 Presidential Decree, the Bern Convention (Bicolored Shrew enlisted in Annex II and Lesser Mouse-eared Bat enlisted in Annex III) and the 92/43/EEC directive - the Lesser Mouse-eared Bat (enlisted in Annexes II and IV). Savi's Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus savii) bat species also occurs in the area, while being a protected species of the 92/43/EEC directive’s Annex IV and the 67/1981 Presidential Decree.


The amphibian’s class presents a low diversity inside the boundaries of the protected area; however there are a few recorded species that are identified as particularly rare and endemic. A characteristic example is the salamander Lyciasalamandra helverseni, commonly known as Kochylina, which is the only endemic species of the Urodela order in Greece. It is listed as a protected species in the 67/1981 Presidential Decree, the Bern Convention, the 92/43/EEC Directive and is included in the Red Data Book of the Threatened Vertebrates of Greece.

The Kochylina salamander occurs only in Karpathos, Saria, Kasos and Kastelorizo and nowhere else worldwide. It seeks shelter at dry places, where it can be found, such as the underside of rocks in stone walls (xerolithies) or wooded areas.

A very important endemic amphibian species of Karpathos is the Pelophylax cerigensis frog. It is regarded as a Critically Endangered species (IUCN 2010) and is enlisted in the Bern Convnetion’s Annex III.


Serpent species of interest, presenting a high degree of endemism, are the Kotschy's Gecko (Cyrtopodion kotschyi oertzeni) and the Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii fabichi), as they occur only at the insular complex of Karpathos, Saria, Kasos and Armathia. Both species are registered as protected at the 67/1981 Presidential Decree, and the Bern Convention in addition to the Snake-eyed Skink’s enlistment in the Annex IV of 92/43/EEC Directive. Other species that occur in the area are the Snake-eyed Lizard (Ophisops elegans), the Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus), the Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus), the Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) and the Large Whipsnake (Coluber jugularis), all of them listed in the 67/1981 Presidential Decree, the Bern Convention and the 92/43/EEC Directive, as protected species.


Northern Karpathos and Saria are included among the “Special Protection Areas” for the avifauna of Europe, taking into account that 18 out of the 45 recorded bird species of the area are listed in the Annex I of the 79/409 European Council’s Directive on the conservation of wild birds. Birds of prey that nest in the area are the Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata), the Eleonora’s Falcon (Falco eleonorae), the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) and the Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus). Other nesting species include Audouin's gull, the only endemic gull species of the Mediterranean region, and the Chukar Partridge (Alectoris chukar), whose hunting has caused a significant decline at its population.

Eleonora’s falcon, in particular, is a migratory species which nests colonially on coastal cliffs or deserted islets. The reproductive population in Greece presents high conservation value as it constitutes the 75% of the species global population. The Greek migrators remain at the area from April till October.

Another protected bird of prey that occurs in the area is the Bonelli’s Eagle. Birdlife International classifies its conservation status as Threatened at European level, while it is qualified as Vulnerable according to the Red Data Book of Threatened Vertebrates of Greece (Hellenic Ornithological Society).