Caribbean Monk Seal

views updated

Caribbean Monk Seal

Monachus tropicalis

ListedMarch 11, 1967
DescriptionA medium-sized seal.
HabitatSubtropical and tropical waters.
FoodProbably marine fish and invertebrates.
ReproductionGives birth to a single cub in December.
RangeFlorida, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands; Bahamas, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico


The Caribbean monk seal, also known as the West Indian monk seal, was a medium-sized seal. The adults were greyish-brown (females were slightly darker), with a yellowish colour underneath and on the muzzle. The body length was about 79-94 in (2.0-2.4 m) and they weighed about 350 lb (160 kg). Males were slightly larger than females. The pups had a coat of long, black fur when born, weighed 35-40 lb (16-18 kg), and were about 3 ft (1 m) long.


The Caribbean monk seal was said to be non-aggressive and sensitive to disturbance. Its pups were born around the beginning of December.


The Caribbean monk seal occurred in subtropical and tropical waters of the Caribbean Basin. It bred and loafed on beaches and rocks.


The Caribbean monk seal is thought to have originally inhabited the beaches, cays, and reefs of the Caribbean, including the Greater Antilles, the northern Lesser Antilles, the Bahamas, the northeastern coast of Central America, the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, and the Florida Keys. The last remaining colony is thought to have been at Seranilla Bank, halfway between Jamaica and Honduras/Nicaragua.


The Caribbean monk seal was hunted throughout its range for its blubber, which was rendered into oil, and for its meat, which was eaten by sailors and local people. The hunting was carried out by local subsistence fishers, and also by commercial hunters. Although they had long been hunted by local aboriginal people, these monk seals were first seen by Europeans in 1494. This was by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage to the Americas. He called these animals "sea wolves," and killed eight of them as food. At the height of the slaughter in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, commercial hunters may have killed as many as a hundred seals in a night. There have been no confirmed sightings of the Caribbean monk seal since 1952, when they were last observed at a small breeding colony at Seranilla Bank. The species is presumed extinct. However, there have been several sightings since 1964, by fishers and others, of a seal-like animal in waters off Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the eastern Bahamas, most recently in 1984. This lends slight hope that the Caribbean monk seal may still survive in a critically endangered population, although most scientists believe this is not the case. An aerial survey in 1973 of 4,000 mi (6,400 km) of the former range of the seal did not make any sightings or find other clear evidence of its survival, nor have subsequent searches.

Conservation and Recovery

The Caribbean monk seal was formally declared extinct by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) in 1996.


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Services
Southeast Region, Ecological Services
651 Federal Drive, Suite 372-12
Guaynabo, Puerto Rico 00965
Telephone: (787) 749-4338
Fax: (787) 749-4340


Seal Conservation Society. 1999. "Caribbean Monk Seal (Monachus tropicalis)." Seal Conservation Society. ( Date Accessed: July 6, 2000.

Reijnders, J. H. 1993. "Seals, Fur Seals, Sea Lions, and Walrus. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan." IUCN Seal Specialist Group. Gland, Switzerland.

About this article

Caribbean Monk Seal

Updated About content Print Article