The Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) is the rarest seal and one of the most endangered mammal species in the world, with less than 600 of them spread throughout its distribution range.
There are two clearly defined populations – the Mediterranean population, which is estimated at 300 of the species distributed mainly between Greece and Turkey, and the Atlantic population, which in turn has two separate sub-populations: one in the Cabo Blanco Peninsula (Mauritania-Morocco) with at least 250 of them, and one in the Madeira archipelago, where there are believed to be between 30 and 40 remaining and where this project is based.
It is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and is protected under Appendices II* (priority species) and IV of Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora. It is also found in Appendices I and II of the Bonn Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. Within the framework of this convention is the Action Plan for the Recovery of the Mediterranean Monk Seal in the Eastern Atlantic, a plan that brings together Mauritania, Morocco, Portugal, and Spain in a common effort to preserve the two Atlantic populations.