Caribbean monk seal

Extinction in the wild:1952
  • Caribbean monk seal
  • Caribbean monk seal

Caribbean monk seals
killed for their oil by sugar cane plantation farmers

Stuffed Caribbean monk seal @ Naturalis Biodiversity Center Leiden, the Netherlands

Stuffed Caribbean monk seal @ Naturalis Biodiversity Center Leiden, the Netherlands
(Click to view larger image).

a) The skull of Mediterranean monk seal b) The skull of Hawaiian monk seal c) The skull of Caribbean monk seal

a) The skull of Mediterranean monk seal
b) The skull of Hawaiian monk seal
c) The skull of Caribbean monk seal
(Click to view larger image).

Drawn Caribbean monk seal in the 1800s Mediterranean monk seal which was kept in Berlin Zoo

Drawn Caribbean monk seal in the 1800s
(Click to view larger image).

Mediterranean monk seal which was kept in Berlin Zoo
(Click to view larger image).

The monk seal is a genus of the true seals. Only these seals live the whole year in tropical or subtropical seas. The three species of monk seals live in perfect different parts of the world. Namely these are the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus), the Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi), and the Caribbean monk seal (Monachus tropicalis) Because of some skeletal characteristics the monk seals are primitive seals. They are closely related to the terrestrial carnivores. However there are also scientific discussions about their close relations amongst the three monk seal species. Last genetic analyses show a closer relationship between the Hawaiian and the Caribbean monk seal and but a larger distance of both of them to the Mediterranean monk seal.

All monk seal species were still quite common at the end of the 19th and in the beginning of the 20th century. Today all three species are extremely rare or already extinct. The evident reason being is that monk seals are "genetically tame" and therefore an easy prey to find and to kill. This makes them vulnerable to rapid depletion. In the 1800s, monk seals were persecuted for their meat, hide and oil.The census of the Hawaiian monk seal counted at the end of the 1970ies was less than 1.000 living animals showing their decreasing numbers. After the introduction of massive and strict conservation measurements since the 1980ies their numbers increase again. Today counts about 1.200 animals. The Mediterranean monk seal is the rarest existing European mammal species today. Less than 300 animals in four groups have been seen along the West African coast, around Madeira Island and at the Turkish and Greek coast.The Caribbean monk seal is definitely extinct today. It was first described by Christopher Columbus in 1494 during his second voyage to America. As early as 1688 sugar plantation owners sent out hunting parties to kill hundreds of seals every night in order to obtain oil to lubricate the plantations machinery. By 1850 so many seals had been killed that there were no longer sufficient numbers of them to be commercially hunted. The species was hunted out in 1885. The last record of a Caribbean monk seal was around Jamaica in 1952. Since this time the species is extinct.All three species are seldom kept in a zoo or aquarium. The oldest report about a kept Mediterranean monk seal was about an animal, exhibited in Nuremberg in 1815.

Caribbean monk seal on a Bahamas 2$ coin Caribbean monk seal on a stamp of Grenada

Caribbean monk seal on a Bahamas 2$ coin
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Caribbean monk seal on a stamp of Grenada
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Between 1882 and 1910 the London Zoo received three single Mediterranean monk seals, but none survived more than four months. The Berlin Zoo got its first specimen in 1910. Two others arrived shortly later and lived quite long. They can be seen on old photos which are shot on glass plates in the early 1930ies.The Hawaiian monk seal was kept only in Hawaii and in the San Diego Zoo, where one specimen arrived from Honolulu Zoo in May 1951 and another one in September 1957. Both animals survived only a few months. Today Hawaiian monk seals are held in captivity in the San Diego Zoo, Waikiki Aquarium and the Hawaii Sea Life Park. In 1989 four animals arrived in the Hawaii Sea Life Park. Three of them are still alive today and draw the attention of tourists from all over the globe. A few Caribbean monk seals, already a rare species at that time, were exhibited in the USA between 1897 and the 1910s. Two seals arrived in the National Zoo Washington in summer 1897, but survived only two months. At the same time, the New York Aquarium received two Caribbean monk seals, which lived in an indoor pool. They died after 2 and after 5 1⁄2 years because of fatty degeneration of their inner organs. In June 1909 the New York Aquarium received again an adult male seal and 2 youngsters. The male died in December 1910 and one of the young animals in January 1911. However the last seal lived quite a long time. It is reported that this animal had the not-so-engaging habit of spitting water at the visitors or splashing them with sweeps of the flippers.

Caribbean monk seal Enclosure in LOST ZOO

Caribbean monk seal Enclosure in LOST ZOO
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Our Lost Zoo is proud to be one of the very few zoos in the world, which keep monk seals, and to be only the third zoo, which keeps Caribbean monk seals. Our Caribbean monk seals live in a heated water pool in the South American corner of the park and are fed with fish and other seafood.

Executive Curator of LOST ZOO
JURGEN LANGE

Caribbean monk seal

Caribbean monk seals were found in warm temperate, subtropical and tropical waters of the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the West Atlantic Ocean. They probably preferred to haul out at low sandy beaches on isolated and secluded atolls and islands. Caribbean Monk Seals are closely related to the Hawaiian monk seals, which live around the Hawaiian Islands and to the Mediterranean monk seals.

Body length : up to about 2.4m

Body weight : 170 to 270kg. Males slightly larger than females.

Color : Back brown with a gray touch, snout and belly light yellow, cream colored Around the neck rings of fat, the so called "Blubber".

Newborn pups : about 1m long and weight 16-18Kg. they have a sleek, black coat when born.

Lifespan : approximately 20 years.

Extinction in the Wild : 1952

Animal Exhibition
Caribbean monk seal