Extinct. The last reliable records of Monachus tropicalis are of a small colony at Seranilla Bank in 1952. An aerial survey in 1973, conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, found extensive fishing activity throughout the former range of this seal. A later cruise through the Gulf of Mexico and around the Yucatan Peninsula failed to find any M. tropicalis in the area.
| The Caribbean Monk Seal is almost certainly extinct. People ocasionally report seeing "a seal-like animal" in Caribbean waters, leading to some hope that a small population survives, but there is as yet no scientific proof of this. The seals were valued for their meat and blubber (for oil) from 1495, when Columbus's sailers killed eight of them, until 1952, the last confirmed sighting. Their main predators, other than humans, were sharks.
Monk seals got their common name because their grayish or brownish coats reminded people of monks' habits. They are earless seals, with only a wrinkle of skin indicating the ear's location, but they can hear. They propel themselves in water with their large hind flippers, but can not bring them up under the body and use them to move on land the way sea lions and other eared seals can. Monk seal pups are born with shiny black fur. The female stays with her pup for more than a month, and fasts, while it is nursing. She gives it daily swimming lessons. Then she returns to the sea and the pup is on its own.
Total Length: 2-2.4 m
Gray, J. E., 1850. Catalogue of the specimens of mammalia in the collection of the British Museum. Part 2(Seals). British Museum (Natural History), London. p. 28.
Mammal Species of the World (opens in a new window).
Mammalian Species, American Society of Mammalogists' species account (opens in a new window).