In 1494 Christopher Columbus described the Caribbean monk seal as a "sea wolf" and ordered his crew to kill eight seals for their meat. The region was soon colonized and people began exploiting the seals commercially for their pelts, and oil, and occassionally for their meat. The harvesting continued until the 20th century.
Size, shape and distinctive characteristics
Very little scientific information was gathered before the Caribbean monk seal disappeared.
Adult males were thought to be about 2-2.5 m in length and weighed up to 200 kg. Females may have been slightly smaller. Mature seals were brown with a gray tinge and were pale yellow ventrally. Pups were dark in color weighing 16-18 kg and were about 1 m long.
At one time, Caribbean monk seals inhabited the Caribbean sea, northwest to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Bahamas to the Yucatan Peninsula, south along the Central American coast, and east to the Northern Antilles. Extralimital records from the southeastern U.S. also exist.
Ecology and Behaviour
Caribbean monk seals spent much of their time in the water and hauled-out on sandy and rocky coastlines for shelter and breeding.
Pups were likely born in early December because several females killed in the Yucatan at this time of year had well-developed fetuses.
Their diet was believed to consist of lobster, octopi, and reef fishes.
In June of 2008, after five years of effort to find or confirm sightings of the Caribbean monk seal, the U.S. government announced that the species was officially extinct. They were also listed as extinct in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (ICUN) Red List of Threatened species in 2008. It is the only known seal species to have gone extinct due to human causes. In the U.S. the last recorded sighting was in 1932 off the coast of Texas, and the last confirmed sighting on record occurred off of Seranilla Bank in 1952.
Intensive exploitation began during the voyages of Columbus and continued for centuries as the seals were killed for skins and oil. In more recent years, they were persecuted by the fishing industry until their demise.