Neomonachus tropicalis

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA MAMMALIA CARNIVORA PHOCIDAE

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
Synonym(s):
Monachus tropicalis (Gray, 1850)
Phoca tropicalis Gray, 1850
Taxonomic Notes: The genus Monachus previously included three geographically widely separated species: the Mediterranean Monk Seal, Monachus monachus; the Caribbean Monk Seal, Monachus tropicalis; and the Hawaiian Monk Seal, Monachus schauinslandi (Rice 1998).  Recent studies  (Scheel et al. 2014) have shown that molecular, morphological, and temporal divergence between the Mediterranean and New World Monk Seals (Hawaiian and Caribbean) is equivalent to or greater than between sister genera of other phocids. As a result, Caribbean and Hawaiian Monk Seals have been reclassified together in a newly erected genus, Neomonachus. Considered the most primitive of all living phocid species, monk seals have anatomical features that resemble those of seal fossils from 14-16 million years ago (Barnes et al. 1985).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Extinct ver 3.1
Year Published: 2015
Date Assessed: 2014-06-04
Assessor(s): Lowry, L.
Reviewer(s): Littnan, C.
Contributor(s): Kovacs, K.M.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Chiozza, F. & Battistoni, A.
Justification:
Despite extensive search, the Caribbean Monk Seal has not been seen since 1952, and it is therefore considered to be Extinct.
History:
1996 Extinct

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The Caribbean Monk Seal inhabited primarily the Caribbean Sea, northwest to the eastern Gulf of Mexico. It had been recorded from numerous islands reefs and cays, including the Bahamas and Greater and Lesser Antilles, as well as the Yucatan Peninsula and southeast along the Central and South American coasts as far east as Guyana. The northernmost extralimital record is from Georgia in the southeastern United States (Allen 2004). Prior to exploitation the species is thought to have occurred in 13-14 colonies spread throughout the Caribbean region (McClenachan and Cooper 2007).
Countries:
Regionally extinct:
Antigua and Barbuda; Bahamas; Belize; Costa Rica; Cuba; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Guadeloupe; Haiti; Honduras (Honduran Caribbean Is., Honduras (mainland)); Jamaica; Mexico (Veracruz, Yucat√°n); Nicaragua (Nicaraguan Caribbean Is.); Puerto Rico; United States (Florida, Georgia)
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Regionally extinct:
Atlantic – western central
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Caribbean Monk Seals were first discovered by Columbus in 1494, and early records testify to its abundance in several parts of the Caribbean. Population size prior to exploitation has been estimated as 233,000-338,000 (McClenachan and Cooper 2007). Hunting of Caribbean Monk Seals by Europeans for food began with Columbus, and many animals were killed for that reason over the following centuries. In the late 1600s hundreds of seals were killed primarily to be used for oil to lubricate machinery on sugar plantations. Additional animals were taken for public display and killed for museum specimens and other reasons (Hairr 2011). By the late 1880s 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 Sixth Extinction Website 2007). The last reliable record from anywhere was of a small colony at Seranilla Bank, a group of tiny coral islands halfway between Jamaica and Honduras, in 1952 (Adams 2004). An aerial survey in 1973 covering much of the species known range did not produce any seal sightings (Kenyon 1977). Vessel surveys of the region in 1980 (Sergeant et al. 1980) and 1984 (LeBoeuf et al. 1986) also  failed to locate any seals. 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 that have been positively identified on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (Mignucci-Giannoni and Haddow 2001).

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: The species occupied a marine environment, with rocky or sandy coastline and islands being used for resting and breeding areas. Their diet is unknown, but may have included eels, lobsters, octopus, and reef fish. Like other true seals, the Caribbean Monk Seal was sluggish on land, and its lack of fear of humans and an unaggressive and curious nature contributed to its demise. They were medium-sized seals, with adult standard lengths of 200-240 cm (Allen 2004). Very little is known about the natural history of  the Caribbean Monk Seal, but related species mature at 4-8 years old, give birth to a single pup (usually annually), and can live to be more than 20 years old.
Systems: Terrestrial; Marine

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: The species was hunted in the past but has been extinct since 1952 so there has been no use since then.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The only known predators of Caribbean Monk Seals were sharks and humans. Intensive exploitation began with 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. This human pressure brought the population to very low numbers, ultimately resulting in extinction of the species (Allen 2004, Hairr 2011).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The first legal protection for Caribbean Monk Seals came in 1945 with the Jamaican Wild  Life Law. In 1949 the species was included on a list of 14 mammals identified as being of international concern and in need of immediate protection. Caribbean Monk Seals have been species of concern to IUCN since at least 1973, and have been protected under the US Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act and listed on CITES Appendix I (Allen 2004). Those actions did not prevent extirpation of the species which is now considered to be Extinct.

Bibliography [top]

Allen, P.J. 2004. Monachus tropicalis. Mammalian Species 747: 1-9.

Barnes, L.G., Domning, D.P. and Ray, C.E. 1985. Status of studies on fossil marine mammals. Marine Mammal Science 1: 15-53.

Boyd, I.L. and Stanfield, M.P. 1998. Circumstantial evidence for the presence of monk seals in the West Indies. Oryx 32: 310-316.

Hairr, J. 2011. Caribbean monk seals: lost seals of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. Coachwhip Publications, Landisville, Pennsylvania, USA.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. Available at: www.iucnredlist.org. (Accessed: 23 June 2015).

Kenyon, K.W. 1977. Caribbean monk seal extinct. Journal of Mammalogy 58: 97-98.

Kenyon, K.W. 1981. Monk seals - Monachus Fleming, 1822. In: S.H. Ridgway and R. Harrison (eds), Handbook of marine mammals, pp. 195-220. Academic Press, London, UK.

Le Boeuf, B.J., Kenyon, K.W. and Villa-Ramirez, B. 1986. The Caribbean monk seal is extinct. Marine Mammal Science 2: 70-72.

McClenachan, L. and Cooper, A.B. 2008. Extinction rate, historical population structure and ecological role of the Caribbean monk seal. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 275: 1351-1358.

Mignucci-Giannoni, A.A. and Haddow, P. 2001. Caribbean monk seals or hooded seals? The Monachus Guardian 4(2).

Rice, D.W. 1998. Marine Mammals of the World. Systematics and Distribution. The Society for Marine Mammalogy, Lawrence, Kansas, USA.

Scheel D.M., Slater G.J., Kolokotronis S-O., Potter C.W., Rotstein D.S., Tsangaras K., Greenwood, A.D. and Helgen, K.M. 2014. Biogeography and taxonomy of extinct and endangered monk seals illuminated by ancient DNA and skull morphology. ZooKeys 409: 1-33.

Sergeant, D., Nichols, G. and Campbell D. 1980. Expedition of the R/V Regina Maris to Search for Caribbean Monk Seals in the South East Bahamas Islands, April 13-26, 1980. In: K. Ronald (ed.), Newsletter of the League for the Conservation of the Monk Seal, pp. 1-44.

The Extinction Website. 2007. Monachus tropicalis. Available at: http://www.petermaas.nl/extinct/speciesinfo/caribbeanmonkseal.htm.


Citation: Lowry, L. 2015. Neomonachus tropicalis. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 04 September 2015.
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