Neomonachus tropicalis


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Neomonachus tropicalis
Species Authority: (Gray, 1850)
Common Name(s):
English Caribbean Monk Seal, West Indian Seal, West Indian Monk Seal
Spanish Foca Fraile del Caribe
Monachus tropicalis (Gray, 1850)
Phoca tropicalis Gray, 1850

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Extinct ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Kovacs, K.
Reviewer(s): Kovacs, K. (Pinniped Red List Authority) & Stuart, S.N. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)
Despite extensive search, the Caribbean Monk Seal has not been seen since 1952, and it is therefore considered to be Extinct.
1996 Extinct
1994 Extinct (Groombridge 1994)
1990 Extinct? (IUCN 1990)
1988 Extinct? (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
1986 Extinct? (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
1982 Endangered (Thornback and Jenkins 1982)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: The Caribbean Monk Seal once inhabited the Caribbean Sea, northwest to the Gulf of Mexico, as well as from the Bahamas to the Yucatan Peninsula, south along the Central American coast and east to the northern Antilles. Extralimital records and fossil remains from the southeastern United States also exist.
Regionally extinct:
Bahamas; Colombia (Colombian Caribbean Is.); Cuba; Dominican Republic; Guadeloupe; Haiti; Honduras (Honduran Caribbean Is., Honduras (mainland)); Jamaica; Mexico; United States
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: The species was first discovered by Columbus in 1494, and early records testify to its abundance in several parts of the Caribbean (The Extinction Website 2007). It was not until 1850 that a specimen was collected and a scientific description made. By 1887, the species was rare, though the Triangle Keys west of Yucatan remained a stronghold of the species until 1915, when about 200 animals were killed there (The Extinction Website 2007). The last record from Texas was in 1932, and the last reliable records from anywhere were of a small colony at Seranilla Bank, a group of tiny coral islands halfway between Jamaica and Honduras, 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 N. tropicalis in the area. Unconfirmed sightings of Caribbean Monk Seals by local fishermen and divers (see for example Boyd and Stanfield (1998)) almost certainly refer to wandering Hooded Seals, which have been positively identified on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: The species occupied a marine environment, with rocky or sandy coastline and islands being used for shelter and breeding areas. Their diet included eels, lobsters, octopus, and other reef fish. Like other true seals, the Caribbean Monk Seal was sluggish on land. Its lack of fear for man and an unaggressive and curious nature also contributed to its demise. Very little is known about the reproduction and longevity of this animal. Live pups were probably born in early December because several females killed in the Yucatan during this time of the year had well-developed foetuses.
Systems: Terrestrial; Marine

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Intensive exploitation began during the voyages of Columbus, and continued for centuries afterwards, as the seals were killed for their skins and oil. In more recent years, the seal was also subject to persecution from the fishing industry.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: It is listed on Appendix I of CITES.

Citation: Kovacs, K. 2008. Neomonachus tropicalis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <>. Downloaded on 24 May 2015.
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