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Caribbean Monk Seal Is Extinct

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. And most likely there was a large population of monk seals swimming the waters around Cozumel for hundreds of years. The monk seal's common name is derived from its folds of skin that look like a monk's hood, and because it spends most of its time alone or in very small groups. The Caribbean monk seal was formally declared extinct in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. However various reported sightings continued throughout their known historical habitat and surveys have been carried out as late as 1993 in attempts to locate any remaining population. But after years of futile efforts to find or confirm any sightings of Caribbean monk seals, in June 2008, the US government declared the species officially extinct in its records and notes that it is the only seal to vanish due to human causes. The population was unsustainable after over- hunting. The Caribbean monk seal was the only subtropical seal native to the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, and had not been seen for more than 50 years. The last confirmed sighting was in 1952 on a group of tiny coral islands halfway between Jamaica and the Yucatan Peninsula. The species was listed as endangered in 1967. Local fishermen and divers regularly claim to have seen the seal, though some biologists believe that these sightings may surely be of wandering hooded seals, which have been positively been identified in islands such as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. It appears that the hooded seals are increasingly straying far into new territories, even those a long distance away from their home in the far north, and are visiting the tropical beaches previously enjoyed by the sadly demised Caribbean monk seal. Caribbean monk seals were first discovered in 1494 on the coast of Santo Domingo during Columbus’s second voyage, when eight were killed for meat. Following European colonization from the 1700’s to 1900’s the seals were exploited extensively for their blubber, for food, scientific study and zoological collection. Blubber was processed into oil and used for lubrication and as lamp and cooking oil. Seal skins were sought to make trunk linings, articles of clothing, straps and bags. Monk seals became easy targets for hunters while resting, birthing, or nursing their pups on the beach. So the slaughter continued up until the 20th century, with hunters sometimes killing as many as a hundred seals in a night in "canned" hunts. The last confirmed sighting of the Caribbean monk seal occurred off Seranilla Bank in 1952. New York Zoological Society Photo 1910Very little scientific information was gathered before the Caribbean monk seal disappeared. Males are thought to have reached a length of 2.1 to 2.4 m; females may have been slightly smaller. The backs of adult seals were brown with a grey tinge; the underside was pale yellow, as was the muzzle. The fur of newborns was long and dark. Evidence suggests that the pups were born in December weighing between 16 and 18 kg, and measuring up to 1 m in length. Only two other monk seal species remain: Hawaiian (1,200 individuals) and Mediterranean (500 individuals), and they are both endangered and at risk for extinction. The population is declining because of lack of food sources for young seals, entanglement in marine debris, predation by sharks, and loss of beaches due to erosion. Erosion and debris can be connected to the El Niño weather pattern and rising sea levels, which is in turn tied to global warming. The storms occurring with increasing frequency drives marine debris closer to monk seal beaches and near shore waters. PLEASE OBSERVE ALL CONSERVATION REGULATIONS STIPULATED WHILE INTERACTING WITH WILD LIFE AND NATURE IN COZUMEL!!
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