Endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal Spotted Near Korčula

Katarina Anđelković

mediterranean monk seal, generic image

November 3, 2023 – The DPS Zagreb Facebook page reported on some exciting news, that a Mediterranean monk seal was seen during a dive near the island of Korčula.

“We have the best possible news from the northwestern part of the island of Korčula. It is definitely confirmed that a MEDITERRANEAN MONK SEAL was seen during the dive!!! Expect a longer text and all the details of this almost impossible encounter soon. The Adriatic as it once was”, they wrote in the announcement.

And they delivered on their promise on dpszagreb.

I was sitting at work when I received a message from my colleague and friend: “Had the best dive of my life earlier today, saw her three meters away”

-whom? I ask him.

“The Mediterranean monk seal, it came back after 70 years, I still can’t believe it, but I have two witnesses who saw her with me!”

You are less likely to encounter a Mediterranean fur seal during a dive than to win the jackpot. This is exactly what happened to Željan Padovan, the owner of the diving center “Diving Tri Porte” from Korčula, who won the diving jack pot – he met a Mediterranean monk seal face to face! Here is his story:

“It was a normal day and we set sail for a dive! Željan starts. We dived on a steep rock full of gorgonians (soft coral) in front of the Zaklopatica cave and slowly rose up from the bottom. I knew right away that the dive would turn out great, we met a few large groupers, along with beautiful gorgonians at the bottom of the rock. There was no mistake; everyone from the group was already satisfied with what they saw! At the end of the dive, we entered Zaklopatica (Zaklopatica cave is included in the top 10 diving locations in the Adriatic) to do another lap, stopped at the safety stop and surfaced. At one point, I saw something shining out of the darkness, and that drew my attention to look in that direction. Big amberjacks sometimes enter the cave, and that is what I was expecting to see”, says Željan.

Suddenly, though, it just appeared in front of them: a young, playful individual of a long-lost Mediterranean monk seal in front of the divers below the surface! “Sounds unreal, doesn’t it?” Željan retells the events; “I would think that I was going crazy or something if I was alone, but I was not alone, and we all saw the same thing: the Mediterranean monk seal. If all that was only a dream, I would still be happy, but it really happened and I still can’t believe it”. It stopped and looked at the divers for a moment and rushed towards the exit of the cave.

An Endangered Species

A monk seal was last seen in that area 70 years ago. Željan’s grandmother talked about the beach where they used to see one when they went fishing by boat. The area is full of caves and grottoes, holes and small sand beaches – an ideal habitat for the Mediterranean monk seal.

The Mediterranean monk seal is one of the most endangered mammals in the world; it is estimated that there are currently only 600 individuals of this species in three areas: the eastern Mediterranean (this is where Croatia belongs), the west coast of Africa, and the Madeira Islands. The first record of the Mediterranean monk seal catch in the Adriatic was recorded in 1777. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the presence of monk seals was described along the eastern coast of the Adriatic, from Istria to Montenegro. The protection of this species only became a thing in the 20th century, when a decrease in their presence was recorded in all areas where it lived. According to the criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Red Book of Mammals of Croatia, this species is currently listed as regionally extinct in the Adriatic Sea.

The benevolent and peaceful animal has been an inhabitant of the Adriatic since ancient times, and the people, recognizing its good nature and value, called it the seaman or the sea bear.


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