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ESR 45:13-20 (2021)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01114

Maternal behavior and early behavioral ontogeny of the Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus in Greece

Alexandros A. Karamanlidis1,*, Panagiotis Dendrinos1, Fritz Trillmich2

1MOm/Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk Seal, 10682 Athens, Greece
2University of Bielefeld, Animal Behavior, 33615 Bielefeld, Germany
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Understanding behavioral ontogeny is important for the successful conservation of endangered marine mammals. This is particularly the case for phocid seals, as during the early stages of their life they must acquire, largely independently, essential survival skills. We studied the maternal behavior and early behavioral ontogeny of the Mediterranean monk seal, one of the most endangered marine mammals on Earth, by installing a remote-controlled, infrared, video system in a pupping cave in Greece and recording the behavior of 2 adult females and their newborn pups (September 2007 to March 2008). Behavioral observations focused on the monitoring of individual attendance (i.e. percentage of time spent in attendance and attendance time) and the description of interactions. Following parturition, the percentage of time spent in attendance of both mothers and pups decreased gradually as pups developed towards independence. Overall, the pupping cave was used almost continuously by the 4 individuals for 3 to 4 mo. Similarly, attendance times also decreased after parturition. During the first 10 d postpartum, maternal attendance was followed by a 0.5 to 13.8 h absence, during which we presume that the adult females went out foraging. We also detail various in-cave interactions for the first time in Mediterranean monk seals in Greece, including lactations, interactions between mothers and pups, interactions between pups and general seal interactions. Our study increases our understanding of the in-cave behavior of the Mediterranean monk seal, while highlighting the vital role of suitable caves in the reproduction and survival of the species and the necessity to effectively protect this type of habitat.


KEY WORDS: Habitat use · Maternal attendance · Monachus monachus · Pupping cave · Species conservation


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Cite this article as: Karamanlidis AA, Dendrinos P, Trillmich F (2021) Maternal behavior and early behavioral ontogeny of the Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus in Greece. Endang Species Res 45:13-20. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01114

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