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Keywords:

  • Mediterranean monk seal;
  • Monachus monachus;
  • Western Sahara-Mauritania;
  • pelage;
  • sex and age classification;
  • coloration;
  • UPGMA

Abstract

In order to describe the pelage and external appearance of the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) and prepare an age-sex classification guide, 120 seals from the Cabo Blanco Peninsula colony in the Western Sahara/Mauritania were periodically photographed between 1993 and 1996. Analysis of the pigmentation pattern, pelage color and pattern of natural markings of each seal established 48 phenetic types, which were, in turn, arranged in five groups (morphological classes) with multivariate cluster analysis (UPGMA). The variables that best define these groups are size and color. The variation related to relative size, sex and age of 26 identified seals monitored over three years showed that: (1) after each molt, external appearance varied considerably only in non-adults, while adult appearance was invariable; (2) marked sexual dimorphism exists in adults' external appearance; and (3) a remarkable similarity of adult and neonate pelage exists. With these results, we propose an age-sex classification guide to facilitate monk seal identification in the field.