ESR prepress abstract  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00971

Diet of a Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus in a transitional post-weaning phase and its implications for the conservation of the species

Cem Orkun Kıraç*, Meltem Ok

*Email: afag@sad.org.tr

ABSTRACT: Abstract The Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus is the most endangered pinniped in the world and is considered Endangered by the IUCN. Transition from suckling to active feeding is a critical time in the development of all mammal species and understanding dietary requirements of seals during this vulnerable period is of value in establishing conservation measures, such as fishery regulations. This study provides unique information on the dietary habits of a moulted monk seal pup, through the opportunistic necropsy of a dead animal encountered at a very early age (5 months). The seal was in a transition feeding phase from suckling to active feeding. Six prey items were identified from stomach content. These were from 2 families: Octopodidae (90.8%) and Congridae (8.9%). The remaining stomach content mass was represented by fish bones of unidentified species (0.3%). The estimated age, low diversity and number of prey items in the stomach content indicate that this individual may have been in a transition period from suckling to active feeding. The study confirms independent foraging in Mediterranean monk seals at about 5-months of age. Given the importance of early-life survival for maintaining stable Mediterranean monk seal populations and occurrence of ontogenetic shift in its close relative (Hawaiian monk seal) these findings contribute to the establishment and implementation of successful conservation and management strategies for this endangered species.