The greater part of its population is situated in Greek waters and is estimated to be about 550-600 seals. The Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) is a monk seal belonging to the family Phocidae. As of 2015, it is estimated that fewer than 700 individuals survive in three or four isolated subpopulations in the Mediterranean, (especially) in the Aegean Sea, the archipelago of Madeira and the Cabo Blanco area in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean. It is believed to be the world's rarest pinniped species.
Sapientza is an island of lush vegetation, with a rich flora and fauna. Here we find the unique in the Mediterranean forest of perennial hollies and arbutus which reach heights beyond ten meters. The great zoological importance of the island is highlighted by the bottlenose dolphin, the Mediterranean monk seal and the loggerhead sea turtle. The famous Cretan goat Kri-kri lives here, as well as many bird species. Researchers and visitors are mystified by the beauty of the landscape and its harmony with nature
The habitat of this pinniped has changed over the years. In ancient times, and up until the 20th century, Mediterranean monk seals had been known to congregate, give birth, and seek refuge on open beaches. In more recent times, they have left their former habitat and now only use sea caves for these activities. Often these caves are inaccessible to humans. Often their caves have underwater entries and their caves are often positioned along remote or rugged coastlines.
Scientists have confirmed this is a recent adaptation, most likely due to the rapid increase in human population, tourism, and industry, which have caused increased disturbance by humans and the destruction of the species' natural habitat. Because of these seals' shy nature and sensitivity to human disturbance, they have slowly adapted to try to avoid contact with humans completely within the last century, and, perhaps, even earlier. The coastal caves are, however, dangerous for newborns, and are causes of major mortality among pups when sea storms hit the caves.
This species of seal grows from approximately 80 centimetres long at birth up to an average of 2.4 metres as adults. Males weigh an average of 320 kilogramsand females weigh 300 kilograms, with overall weight ranging from 240–400 kilograms.They are thought to live up to 45 years old the average life span is thought to be 20 to 25 years old and reproductive maturity is reached at around age four.
The monk seals' pups are about 1 metre long and weigh around 15–18 kilograms , their skin being covered by 1–1.5 centimeter-long, dark brown to black hair. On their bellies, there is a white stripe, which differs in color and shape between the two sexes. In females the stripe is usually rectangular in shape whereas in males it is usually butterfly shaped.This hair is replaced after six to eight weeks by the usual short hair adults carry.
Pregnant Mediterranean monk seals typically use inaccessible undersea caves while giving birth, though historical descriptions show they used open beaches until the 18th century. There are eight pairs of teeth in both jaws.
Believed to have the shortest hair of any pinniped, the Mediterranean monk seal fur is black (males) or brown to dark grey (females), with a paler belly, which is close to white in males. The snout is short broad and flat, with very pronounced, long nostrils that face upward, unlike their Hawaiian relative, which tend to have more forward nostrils. The flippers are relatively short, with small slender claws. Monk seals have two pairs of retractable abdominal teats, unlike most other pinnipeds.