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STAFF REPORTER

PALMA
EXPERTS have confirmed that underwater photographs taken by a diver off the coast of Calvia last weekend are of a monk seal.
The monk seal is extremely rare and was last spotted in Balearic waters 50 years ago. There are estimated to be only 500 of the species in the whole world, distributed throughout the Mediterranean (Greece, Turkey, Morocco and Algeria) and the Western Atlantic (Portugal, Algeria and Mauritania).

The Balearic Government, who handed over photographs taken of the seal by Palma diver, Alvaro Gari, to specialists, now wish to ascertain the sex of the seal in order to implement a breeding programme.

The Minister of the Environment, Miquel Angel Grimalt, described the sighting as “very positive”. He said his department had received four other reports of sightings over the last month, though there hitherto existed no confirmation of what type of species.

These previous sightings confirm that the animal has been moving around the west coast of the island between the municipalities of Calvia and Valldemossa, and especially in the marine reserves.

The Department of the Environment together with the Department of Agriculture and Fishing is now setting up a committee to track the progress of the seal.

Grimalt said the seal's presence in the islands confirmed that “Balearic waters offered an ideal habitat for this animal”.
He said the next step was to ascertain the sex of the animal and called on the public to help report sightings. “We're sure that if we can identify its sex, we can collaborate with other countries and with the Ministry to drive forward a plan of recuperation that we have been speaking about for so many years,” said Grimalt.

However, he added that “one had to be realistic” and acknowleged that it was possible the seal could disappear.
The Minister called on those who used the sea, such as fishermen and diving clubs, to be careful not to disturb the seal, which belongs to one of the top ten most threatened species in the world, and not to come closer that 100 metres of the animal.

He said that it was possible that the animal came from the north of Africa or the eastern part of the Mediterranean. “It's news charged with hope,” said the Director General of Fishing, Patricia Arbona, who recalled that people always spoke of the last monk seal in the Balearics, which was captured and killed in 1958. “Today, for the first time we can speak about the first (one in 50 years),” she added.
The head of the Species Protection Service, Joan Mayol, said that these types of seals lived for 40 years and lived off fish and octopus.
Mayol said that “the most likely thing that will happen is that just as soon as it has come, it will go”, though the fact that it had been spotted in different places around 30 or 40 kilometres of coast was “a good sign”.

Alvaro Gari, the diver who spotted the seal, said that it was almost three metres long and was of a clear, white colour.
He said that he spent about 10 minutes with the seal in a cave taking photographs of it.