Study and conservation of the monkseal in Mauritania

Manuel San Felix

The biology of the monk seal, the world's most endangered seal species, is poorly known. This project carried out research on monk seal biology (reproduction, census, habitat) and on causes of seal mortality. Project results: 1/ Creation of the NGO, Association Mauritanienne des Amis du Phoque Moine AMAPHON, based in Nouadhibou and supported by the president of Mauritania. 2/ Support and assistance to the Parc National du Banc d'Arguin and the Cente National de Recherches Oceanographiques et des Peches. 3/ Employment and training of a warden and of AMAPHON to implement conservation measures for the colony. 4/ Information campaign to local authorities (Governor, Mayor, etc.) and the local fishing community. 5/ Six expeditions to the area 6/ Creation and maintenance of operative local structures. The team are also investigating how to carry out the reintroduction of the species in the Canary Islands, one of its former habitats. Awareness was raised by producing a videotape for use in conferences, etc. and through scientific publications and articles. M. San Felix was still involved in the Monk Seal recovery plan, which aims to secure its populations in the Western Sahara and study the viability of reintroduction in adequately protected former habitats. More than half the population of Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) possibly wiped out on NW coast of Africa. Mass mortality first reported 19 May 1997, and by end May 81 corpses found. Less than half normal number of seal recorded in their caves along Cabo Blanco Peninsula. Scientists estimate over 150 animals may have perished. Spanish researchers have identified three highly toxic dinoflagellates in water near main seal caves and tissue analyses of seal corpses yielded over 20 neurotoxins produced by the dinoflagellates. Surviving seals may be removed from the area until dino concentrations have normalised. (BBC wildlife July 1997; New Scientist 21 June 1997; resume Oryx October 1997)