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  The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition

Caribbean Monk Seal
Order Pinnipedia : Family Phocidae : Monachus tropicalis (Gray)

Caribbean Monk Seal (Monachus tropicalis).  Illustration by Pieter A. Folkens.Description. The Caribbean monk seal was a relatively small seal, the upperparts nearly uniform brown, tinged with gray; sides paler; underparts pale yellow or yellowish white; soles and palms naked; pelage very short and stiff; nails on anterior digits well developed, on posterior digits rudimentary. Dental formula: I 2/2, C 1/1, Pm 4/4, M 1/1 X 2 = 32. Total length of males about 2.25 m; females slightly smaller. Weight, 70-140 kg.

Distribution in Texas. Now extinct, the Caribbean monk seal was the only seal native to the Gulf of Mexico. They were tropically distributed but limited to the Gulf of Mexico coast, Yucatan Peninsula, western Caribbean Sea, the Greater and Lesser Antilles, the Bahamas, and the Florida Keys. Records from Texas include one sighting in 1932 and several instances of remains recovered from coastal archaeological sites. M. tropicalis probably became extinct by the mid-1950’s.

Habits. Notwithstanding the fact that this seal has been known from the time of Columbus, no specimens reached museums until the middle of the last century when its numbers were already so depleted that it had become rather rare. Likewise, very little life history information is at hand.

These seals preferred sandy beaches for hauling-out grounds, such as the low, sandy islets making up the Triangle Keys west of Yucatan. While on land they were sluggish and had no fear of man, a trait that permitted their slaughter to the point of extinction. In former years they were used extensively as a source of oil.

Virtually nothing was learned about the life history of the Caribbean monk seal before its extinction. Apparently, the young were born in early December because several females killed in the Triangle Keys during this time had well-developed fetuses.

No information is available on their food habits but they probably ate fish and molluscs.

Illustration credit: Pieter A. Folkens.