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Albania & Croatia

Monk seals commemorated (sort of)

A rather curious set of stamps was issued by Albania this year to commemorate the Mediterranean monk seal. Depicting two individuals loafing on idyllic white sands, the 4-stamp issue describes the species as Monacus albiventris, no doubt a corruption of the taxonomic synonym Monachus albiventer, a name most often associated with the 18th century Dutch physician and taxonomist P. Boddaert (Boddaert, P. 1785. Elenchus animalium. Vol. I. C. R. Hake, Rotterdam, the Netherlands: 170). In fact, Boddaert coined the name Phoca albiventer (in recognition of the species’ white belly patch), and it was not until 1822 that the British naturalist J. Fleming suggested the genus Monachus (Fleming, J. 1822. The Philosophy of Zoology, vol. 2. Edinburgh and London: 1-618). As a consequence, the term Monachus albiventer was still seen in scientific papers up until the 1950s.

Field research in Albania and Croatia

The Mediterranean Monk Seal Group in Croatia, headed by Jasna Antolovic, and Aquarius of Albania, led by Andrian Vaso, joined forces in field research during June – August 1999. The ongoing project is being funded through a REC grant (Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe in Budapest, Hungary).

In Albania, 19 habitats were investigated in the area of Reza E Kanarit, and in one of them traces of monk seal urine were reportedly found.

In August, the team from Albania joined the Croatian group in monitoring previously investigated habitats in the Vis archipelago, including the islands of Bisevo, Svetac, Vela Palagruza and Mala Palagruza. The field trip resulted in the discovery of one new potential monk seal habitat. All identified M. monachus habitats in Albania and Croatia are believed to be sufficiently intact as to permit occupation by the monk seal.

As an integral part of its activities, Aquarius and the Mediterranean Monk Seal Group also published educational posters, picture books (in Croatian, Albanian and English) and special postcards designed to gather sightings data. During the summer period, several of these postcards were received, conveying reported sightings of the monk seal in the Adriatic sea.

Frequent lectures on the monk seal and the problems experienced by the species were held in Croatia by Jasna Antolovic. Radio and television interviews helped to bring this information to a wider audience.

With approximately 50% of the planned activities now completed, the project is expected to draw to a close and issue its final report by September 2000.


Monk seal cave dynamited for hotel construction

According to press reports, The Ecological Movement of Cyprus has seized upon the results of a 1997/1998 monk seal population study to level harsh criticism against the island’s government. The study (an operation mounted by leading Greek NGO MOm, the Cyprus Wildlife Society and the Fisheries Department of Cyprus) concluded that a "a very small number" of individual monk seals still survive around the island’s shores. The population had declined so seriously that only concerted action could save it from extinction. In particular, urgent measures were required to protect two possible breeding locations.

The monk seal in Cyprus, according to a report in the 8 August edition of the Sunday Mail, ( had previously been considered extinct.

At the same time, the Ecological Movement declared that the report’s findings confirmed what they had always suspected – that the monk seal continued to survive but desperately needed protection. "They claimed," wrote Martin Hellicar in the Sunday Mail, that "the Fisheries Department always knew M. monachus was not extinct in Cyprus, but had adopted a policy of denying the continued existence of the threatened seal in the mistaken belief that this would better ensure its survival. This tactic had backfired because it meant monk seal breeding sites had not been afforded protection."

Mass tourism on Cyprus remains the greatest single threat to the population’s survival (see Mass tourism and the Mediterranean monk seal, this issue). However, according to the Ecological Movement, monk seals that had once bred in caves on the Asprokremmos (Akamas) coast had been driven away by dynamiting during the construction of a massive hotel complex. These allegations are largely confirmed in the aforementioned monk seal status survey (Dendrinos & Demetropoulos 1997). According to the Ecological Movement, the development is the brainchild of the family company of former Foreign Minister Alecos Michaelides. The excavating blasts, claimed the organisation, were also illegal. The Sunday Mail quoted the Movement’s spokesman as saying: "Due to the explosions carried out during construction of the hotel, in violation of conditions laid out in the building licence, a sea cave where the monk seal took refuge was destroyed. Michaelides’ firm secured relaxations from the Cabinet to allow the hotel to be built larger than local planning zone requirements permitted."


Martin Hellicar. Monk seal clings on in secret Cyprus coves. The Sunday Mail. 8 August 1999. Available in The Monachus Library

Dendrinos, P., & A. Demetropoulos. 1997. Mediterranean monk seal survey of the Cyprus coasts. MOm (Hellenic Society for the Study & Protection of the Monk Seal); Cyprus Wildlife Society; Fisheries Dept., Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources & Environment, Cyprus., Nicosia & Athens. RAC/SPA, Tunis. 1998: 1-22.

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