Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) Sightings in Italy (1998-2010) and Implications for Conservation

Although for over two decades resident populations of Mediterranean monk seals (Monachus monachus) have disappeared from Italian locations, sightings of seals have occasionally been reported. The present paper illustrates the methodology used to validate monk seal sightings recorded by third-party observers from 1998 to 2010 and the main results of the validation procedure. The collected monk seal sighting information amounts to 81 observations of which 48 are validated observations corresponding to 35 distinctive sighting events. Over the course of the entire 12-y period, sightings were reported in a somewhat repetitive manner, mostly in the lesser western islands of Sicily and northern Sardinia. The repeated observations over the years in the said areas would suggest that these individuals are not observed incidentally and that there may be a regular use of selected stretches of coast over time. More recently (2009-2010), sightings have also been recorded in the proxim-ity of selected locations of the central-western and northwestern Italian coasts, two of which are char-acterised by islands. Information on the size class category of the sighted animals, as inferred from the estimated length, suggests that most observed individuals are likely to be juvenile animals, while a smaller amount of seals are likely to be subadult and adult-sized individuals. Information from the collected reports indicates that monk seal sight-ings in Italy, although not frequent, occur steadily and on a repeated basis. Further studies are needed to determine the number of individual monk seals present and their spatial and temporal usage of the coastal areas where they are observed, while aware-ness activities should be conducted to raise atten-tion to behavioural and reporting procedures to be followed in case of sightings to the benefit of a more thorough monitoring of sightings in the country. Key Words: Mediterranean monk seal, Monachus monachus, sightings, western Mediterranean, Italy.

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