Cabo Blanco seal colony

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The only true colony of monk seals in the world is Cabo Blanco seal colony living in the westernmost point of African continent. Here live some 200 Mediterranean monk seals (Monachus monachus).

Most endangered seal in the world

Once upon a time Mediterranean monk seal was common animal – these 2.4 m long, 240 – 400 kg heavy seals were abundant in Mediterranean sea, Black sea and part of Atlantic Ocean near Gibraltar, around Madeira, Canary Islands, Azores.

Due to hunting, disturbance and unfavourable changes in environment their number has dramatically decreased. Now only some 450 – 510 animals survive, mostly around Cabo Blanco, but also around Madeira, in Aegean Sea and some more locations in Mediterranean.

Largest colony of monk seals in the world

Major part of these animals live in Cabo Blanco – westernmost land of African continent. This is the only sizeable colony of monk seals world wide, with far smaller one – 30 Desertas colony in Madeira, with some 30 individuals. There is reported also a colony in Aegean Sea. Only in Cabo Blanco the number of animals is large enough to maintain a colony character in socialization of these animals.

Cabo Blanco seals in 1945, Western Sahara
Cabo Blanco seals in 1945 / Eugenio Morales Agacino’s Photographic Archive, / CC BY-SA 3.0 Spain

In 1997 in two months time many seals died – possibly due to poisoning with saxitoxins from shellfish. Number of animals in the colony decreased from 317 to 109. For most part adult animals died. Birth rate of the remaining animals increased and now the colony seems to be on increase again. In 2008 there were observed 145 animals, but in 2009 were reported some 200.

Cabo Blanco peninsula

Cabo Blanco is approximately 60 km long peninsula, divided between Mauritania and Western Sahara. Above the water this is true Sahara – almost lifeless, wind blown plain. Western coast of peninsula, which is directed towards Atlantic, for most part consists of 10 – 20 m tall cliffs. Harsh storms have formed several deep caves in these cliffs.

Sea near these inhospitable coasts is very productive due to upwelling: governing winds rise cold, nutrient rich ocean water to the surface and fish can find here much food – plankton. Empty, endless beaches and sea full with fish is perfect environment for seals.

Escape to the caves

Most monk seals were breeding in open beaches some centuries ago. Their pups can not swim for several weeks after the birth – safe beach and caring adults are needed for them to survive.

Unfortunately monk seals have been hunted and harassed for centuries and now they hide in inaccessible sea caves.

Cabo Blanco has such caves – most seals here live and breed in two such caves. These caves are dangerous for young seals – ocean here is harsh and storms – frequent. Storm surges often flood the caves and more than half of young seals die in first two months after the birth.

In 2008 there was observed a seal mother with pup in an open beach of Cabo Blanco – there is a hope that seals may return to this much safer environment.

References

  1. L.M.Gonzalez, M.A.Cedenilla, P.F. de Larrinoa, J.F.Layna, F.Aparico. Changes in the breeding variables of the Mediterranean Monk seal (Monachus monachus) colony of Cabo Blanco Peninsula after a mass mortality episode. Mammalia, t. 66., No.2., 2002., pp. 173 – 182.

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Cabo Blanco seal colony 20.770199, -17.050309 Cabo Blanco seal colony
Coordinates: 20.7701 N 17.0506 W
Categories: Animal colonies
Values: Visual, Biology
Rating: (2.5 / 5)
Address: Africa, Western Sahara and Mauritania, Dakhlet Nouadhibou, southern end of Cabo Blanco peninsula, western cliffs
Area: 15 km long coastline
Dominating species: Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus)

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