Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sailing with monks

This island that looks like a molar tooth is, together with the Southern tip of Deserta island you can also see on the photo, home to some of the last Mediterranean monk seals in the world, in the archipielago of Madeira.

I took this photo yesterday on board the Ventura do Mar, a nice little wooden ketch manned by a team of passionate biologists.

You can't see the monk seals on the photo, because -- as their name indicates -- the members of this species live like hermits and spend a considerable amount of their time in underwater caves.

The Mediterranean Monk seal is the most threatened species of seals worldwide. There are a few left in the Mediterranean, in the Greek Islands and in Turkey. Another colony lives along the coast of Mauritania and along the Saharan coast, but the on-going political unrest in the region has been for many years, and remains, an obstacle to the comprehensive study of that population. It is thus hard to know how many are left there, though the numbers are clearly low.

In Madeira, there was only about six to eight individuals left 20 years ago, but thanks to the great efforts of the Parque Natural da Madeira and a strict legislation (including very severe restrictions to access to and landing on Deserta island and to fishing in the surrounding waters) the numbers have gone up to thirty now.

After a healthy pause (except for the sunburns) in the work of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) here in Madeira, we're going to refocus tomorrow to finish preparing the annual meeting that opens officially on Monday morning.

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