Revered in ancient Greece and under the protection of the gods Poseidon and Apollo, the head of a monachus monachus, not of a monarch, appeared on one of the first known Greek coins, minted around 600 BC.
However, the Roman gods did not smile favourably on the Monk Seal and they were heavily hunted for their fat and fur and have been ever since. Once commonly found basking on sandy beaches, where they nested, they now seek sanctuary in sea caves, often with submerged entrances. Numbers are so low that they are the mammal most likely to next become extinct, and in the not distant future. The closely related Caribbean Monk Seal is thought to have passed into extinction during the twentieth century.
Ancient Greek coin from Phocaea, approx. 600BC,
depicting a monk seal eating an octopus
widespread across the Mediterranean, Marmara and Black Seas, and on
Atlantic coasts from France to the Azores and the Gambia, the
world-wide population of Mediterranean Monk Seals is estimated to be as
low as 500-600, with perhaps half of those living in the seas around
Greece, principally in the Marine Park of Alonissos. They are also
reputed to live around the Ionian islands, particularly along the rocky
coast of Kefalonia between Poros and Fiskardo.
Originally friendly and trusting by nature, they have become wary of human contact and can easily be frightened. In the very unlikely event you come into close proximity of a Monk Seal it’s best to remain motionless or slowly but surely back away, not because it's likely to attack you but to avoid spooking it.
There’s some easily readable information about the Mediterranean Monk Seal at www.monachus-guardian.org
Monachus monachus, the Mediterranean Monk Seal