Description & Behavior
Caribbean monk seals, Monachus tropicalis (Gray, 1850), (also formerly known as West Indian monk seals and West Indian seals) are now extinct. Adults of this species were grayish-brown, females were slightly darker, with a yellowish color underneath and on their muzzles. They reached between 2-2.4 m in length and weighed about 160 kg. These seals were similar in appearance to the closely-related Hawaiian monk seals, Monachus schauinslandi, which still exist but are Critically Endangered, and Mediterranean monk seals, Monachus monachus, which are also Critically Endangered. The main predators of Caribbean monk seals were sharks and humans.
World Range & Habitat
There have been no confirmed sightings of Caribbean monk seals since 1952. The species is thought to have originally inhabited the beaches, cays, and reefs of the Caribbean, ranging from the Greater Antilles to the northern Lesser Antilles, the Bahamas, the northeastern coasts of Central America, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and the Florida Keys. The last remaining colony is believed to have lived at Serranilla Bank, halfway between Nicaragua and Jamaica.
Feeding Behavior (Ecology)
Caribbean monk seals probably had similar diets to that of Hawaiian monk seals which include regional fish, lobsters, octopuses, reef fishes, and eels.
The breeding season for the Caribbean monk seal used to began in December. Pups were born with black fur coats and likely measured about 1 m in length.
Conservation Status & Comments
Caribbean monk seals were widely hunted for their blubber for oil and for their meat. The ship of Columbus recorded killing eight “sea wolves”, likely Caribbean monk seals, in 1495. Local fishermen hunted this species commercially as well. Caribbean monk seals were known to be very nonaggressive as well as sensitive to disturbance, factors that human’s exploited until they were extinct.
Although sightings of a seal-like animal were spotted in Puerto Rican waters near the north coast of Haiti, along the coast of the Dominican Republic, and in the eastern Bahamas, a 6,377 km aerial survey of the former range of Caribbean monk seals in 1973 provided no evidence that members of this species still exist (and there have been no reported sightings since that time). The species is listed as Extinct on the IUCN Red List and as an Appendix I species under CITES.
References & Further Research
Research Monachus tropicalis @
Barcode of Life BioOne Biodiversity Heritage Library CITES Cornell Macaulay Library Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) ESA Online Journals FishBase Florida Museum of Natural History Ichthyology Department GBIF Google Scholar ITIS IUCN RedList (Threatened Status) Marine Species Identification Portal NCBI (PubMed, GenBank, etc.) Ocean Biogeographic Information System PLOS SIRIS Tree of Life Web Project UNEP-WCMC Species Database WoRMS