After searching for the seal in vain in the Northern Sporades in 2023, I found it in Kefalonia in June this year.

Coming from Germany in our Volkswagen bus, we take the ferry from Bari/Italy to Igoumenitsa in Greece across the Adriatic Sea. On deck I look for dolphins, instead I discover a flying fish. In all the years we have been travelling in the Mediterranean, it is the first one I have been able to photograph. On inaturalist I cannot find a single entry for the Adriatic Sea. From this I conclude that it must be quite rare for this part of the Mediterranean. There are various species. Identifying them in flight is not easy.

Flying fish in the Adriatic Sea

We reach Argostoli, the main town on Kefalonia. We set up camp at the local campsite, drive to the beach and – spot the seal within minutes. It’s that simple. The crucial difference to the unsuccessful search last year is the tip from a friend who is a biologist working on Kefalonia. He told me where to find an active seal cave.

Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus)

Over the next few days we see seals every day, sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs. It must be a mother with her young. Sometimes we only see one adult animal. I can’t say whether it is the mother who left her young behind or whether there is perhaps a second adult animal on site. We see the animals in the water in the area of the cave, directly in front of a neighboring beach, 100 meters off the coast, from the sea kayak and underwater while snorkeling.

Observing a Mediterranean Monk Seal from the kayak. The head of the seal can be seen above the bow of the boat.

We never see the seals reacting anxiously. Sometimes they are curious, sometimes maybe surprised. After being persecuted for centuries ‒ probably less so today ‒ the Mediterranean Monk Seal seems to get used to people. Nevertheless, it is still one of the rarest mammals in Europe and it is certainly too early to say that the species is saved.

We enjoy being with the animals and we try to behave respectfully. For us, this includes keeping our distance from the seal cave. If the animals then decides to approach people away from the cave peacefully, that is probably OK for the seal.

Unfortunately, we see a few things that we don’t like. Ships anchor in the seal bay. The people there play loud music, launch boats, go diving. A new hotel has just been completed above the bay, although the responsible authorities must have known that there is a seal cave nearby. We book a sea kayak tour. I assume that we will paddle a bit along the coast, and we do, but on the way our guide hardly misses a cave to paddle into. Of course it’s fun, but for species protection reasons I would have preferred to keep a certain distance.

Direct persecution is probably no longer such a big problem for the seals. Today we have to look at how we can minimize potential disturbances caused by tourism – such as the commotion caused by excursion boats.

Because of this situation, I do not want to give the exact location of the cave here. Before bringing more people near the seals, a way should be found to give the animals space to be undisturbed.

However, it is completely unproblematic to point out that you can easily observe Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) along the sea promenade in Argostoli, or from the De Bosset Bridge respectively.

Loggerhead turtle coming to the surface

I was surprised to read that four species of sea turtle have been identified in the Mediterranean. The Loggerhead turtle is by far the most common species. You usually only see them emerge from the water briefly. Take a few photos to make sure it is this species.

How to recognize a Loggerhead Turtle:
In front of the unpaired forehead shield there are five horny plates, which is typical for this species.

There is also a lot to discover UNDER water around Kefalonia too, including Mediterranean Parrotfish (Sparisoma cretense), Black Scorpionfish (Scorpaena porcus) or Greater Pipefish (Syngnathus acus). The highlight for me is a specimen of a Bearded Fireworm (Hermodice carunculata) – a creature like from another planet. No wonder Luke Skywalker had to fight one …

Bearded Fireworm (Hermodice carunculata)
Paralia Atheras

We spend a night in Paralia Atheras, one of the few bays on Kefalonia that is not yet overrun by tourists. I set off here in the evening with my thermal imager. I hear both Little Owl and Scops Owl. This gives me hope of seeing small rodents. Instead, two wild boars come down the wooded slope, a black rat looks out of a hole in the rock, and another climbs through a treetop.

Black rats

When travelling, I am also interested in roadkills, on Kefalonia I have a blackout at one point. The most common victim on our journey across the island is the Stone Marten. After the fifth or so, my interest wanes. Then there is something else, pretty flat: I only look briefly and don’t hear any bells ringing. It isn’t until later in the day that I project the image in my mind again: the specimen is actually much too dark for a stone marten and the tail is shorter. A quick search reveals that the American Mink is on the rise in Greece, as it is everywhere in Europe. However according to my source and also according to inaturalist, it has not yet reached the south of Greece. If I had taken a photo, I might have been able to document the first specimen for Kefalonia. Darn it!

My wife and I visit Ainos Oros, the highest elevation and the only place on the island where there is a forest of Greek Fir (Abies cephalonica). This mountain range is designated as a national park. Unfortunately, the forest is not in good condition. Sheep and goats have pretty much completely destroyed the undergrowth.

Some of the mammalian species that inhabit Ainos Oros, are Northern white-breasted Hedgehog (Erinaceus roumanicus), Stone Marten (Martes foina), Balkan Mole (Talpa stankovici), Edible Dormouse (Glis glis), Field mice (Apodemus sp.), Horseshow Bats (Rhinolophus sp.). It is also likely to come across European Hare. Apparently the subspecies that occurs here is Lepus europaeus creticus.

Landscape at the northern edge of Ainos Oros. Looks like good habitat for hares.

I also get a chance to visit a few caves. Around Sami there is for example Zervati Cave (no excess above water), Soritas Cave (climbing gear needed) and Mellisani Cave (very worthwhile if you needed a caveman – Homo sapiens subsp. speleo-touristicus – on your mammal checklist).

Mellisani Cave: lots of big mammals, no small ones seen

Probably the most productive one for mammal watchers is Grouspa Cave near Argostoli. Here a visitor can encounter up to seven species of bats. Among them are the nearly threatened species Schreiber’s Bent-winged Bat (Miniopterus schreibersii), Geoffroy’s Bat (Myotis emarginatus), Blasius’s Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus blasii), Mediterranean Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus euryale), as well as Lesser Mouse-eared Bat (Myotis blythii), Greater Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) and Lesser Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros). An information board on site says: “This cave is particularly important for the bats of Kefalonia altogether, since it appears that the largest populations of most of the above species occur here!” Outside the cave, but within the adjacent dolina are fig trees, where Edible Dormice (Glis glis) are observed at night.

View up from the bottom of the dolina at Grouspa Cave

To get to the cave, you have to drive a few hundred meters on a gravel road (risk of flat tire); walk a short way through the bush (better to use a navigation app); climb a steep ladder into a collapsed dolina (sink hole), descend to the base of the dolina on loose material and finally squeeze through the cave entrance while crouching. The cave itself is spacious. It is relatively damp, the ground is clayey, and partly covered in bat shit. Don’t forget: For security reasons never enter a cave without at least three different artificial lights!

I analyse just over two hundred usable photos and identify three bat species: Schreiber’s Bent-winged Bat, Mediterranean Horseshoe Bat and Lesser Mouse-eared Bat. 

Schreiber’s Bent-winged Bat (Miniopterus schreibersii)
Mediterranean Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus euryale). Note, The upper saddle process is much longer than the lower one.
Mediterranean Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus euryale). Note, the lancet tapers evenly.
Two Lesser Mouse-eared Bats (Myotis oxygnathus) among many – much smaller – Schreiber’s Bent-winged Bats.

What a great cave visit! And in general: What a great tour again!

Three Common Bottlenose Colphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Adriatic Sea on the way back to Italy.


Aulagnier et al. (2009): Mammals of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Bloomsbury

Bock, Anni (2020): Lepus europaeus (Lagomorpha: Leporidae). Mammalian Species, Volume 52, Issue 997, 23 December 2020, Pages 125–142,

Dietz et al. (2016): Handbuch der Fledermäuse Europas und Nordwestafrikas. Kosmos Verlag, Stuttgart

Kafkaletou Diez et al. (2015): Distribution and Morphological Comparison of Two Sibling Bat Species Myotis myotis and Myotis blythii (Mammalia, Chiroptera) in Greece. Conference paper: 13th International Congress on the Zoogeography and Ecology of Greece and Adjacent Regions. 

Vada et al. (2023): Feral American mink Neogale vison continues to expand its European range: time to harmonise population monitoring and coordinate control. Mammal Review 53 (2023) 158–176. Mammal Society and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.