|The Mammals of Texas -
Caribbean Monk Seal
Pinnipedia : Family Phocidae : Monachus
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
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
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