Ancient Romans may have triggered decline of the world’s rarest seals

Populations of Mediterranean monk seals began shrinking when seafaring civilisations expanded around the Mediterranean basin

Life 24 May 2022

Monk Seal, Monachus monachus, Alonissos Island, GreeceMonk seal, Monachus monachus, which enters and swims in the sea. Endangered species. Alonissos Island, Sporades Islands, Greece (Photo by Cristian Umili/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

A Mediterranean monk seal in Greece

Cristian Umili/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

The rarest seal species in the world started its population decline millennia ago, possibly due to the rise of ancient human civilisations.

Mediterranean monk seals (Monachus monachus) are exceptionally endangered. Once widespread throughout the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea and warmer North Atlantic coastlines, there are currently only a few hundred left in disjointed populations.

Previous research has shown that these groups have low genetic variation, leaving them susceptible to disease and other threats. But it wasn’t clear precisely how these seals became so vulnerable. …

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