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


24 May 2022

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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