IFAW collaborates with Spanish and Moroccan conservationists on Atlantic monk seal study

Wednesday, May 4, 2005
Dakhla, Morocco
The team onboard Song of the Whale, the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s (IFAW) unique research vessel, is undertaking a challenging and difficult task in an effort to protect one of the most endangered species on earth – the Mediterranean monk seal.
During the month of May, IFAW’s Song of the Whale team will be working to assist the Action Plan for the Recovery of the Atlantic monk seal, which is part of the Bonn Convention;  In collaboration with Spanish conservationists from CBD-Habitat Fundacion, the Institute National de Recherche Halieutique (INRH) of Morocco, and Dakhla based NGO, Nature Initiative, the international team onboard Song of the Whale will conduct surveys to find out if the ‘critically endangered’ eastern Atlantic monk seal inhabits the coastline northwards from the Mauritanian border into Morocco.

A colony of about 170 seals live on the Cap Blanc peninsula on the border of Mauritania and Morocco and CBD-Habitat have been involved in the monitoring and protection of this colony for many years. However, very little survey work has been undertaken in the area northwards of the established colony, as the caves and beaches that line the coast are very difficult and dangerous to access from land. This new survey will involve launching inshore ‘Zodiac’ inflatables from Song of the Whale to search for previously undocumented seals and suitable habitat on this extremely remote and desolate stretch of Saharan coast.

The SOTW team is well suited for this type of work as the new Song of the Whale has been designed and equipped to work in remote and harsh environments. The IFAW team has years of field experience to draw upon, and the support and local knowledge provided by CBD-Habitat, INRH and Nature Initiative will also be invaluable.

IFAW’s Richard McLanaghan, skipper of Song of the Whale said: “We are delighted to be undertaking this survey in partnership with CBD-Habitat, INRH and Nature Initiative. IFAW has a long standing interest in and concern for the protection of monk seals. The Mediterranean monk seal is one of the most endangered species of marine mammal and they inhabit remote, inaccessible caves, probably as a result of human persecution in the past. Following the disastrous mass mortality in 1997, the colony was reduced to its current size from over 300, so discovering additional individual seals here would be very significant in conservation terms. Better information on their distribution in this area will also enable us to improve their protection in the future.”

Pablo Fernandez de Larrinoa, for CBD-Habitat said:  We have been studying and protecting the Mediterranean monk seals at Cabo Blanco for many years and this collaborative survey with IFAW will allow us to access some of the remoter areas of the coast that until now have remained inaccessible to us – we are very pleased to be able to work together on this exciting and potentially ground breaking study.”

As few as 500 individual Mediterranean monk seals may be left in total, in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean. The discovery of even a handful of animals off Western Morocco would be a major finding, adding significantly to the known world population estimates. Every single animal discovered would add 1%to the known local population and 5 animals would add 1% to the world population.

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