Caribbean Monk Seal: Monachus tropicalis

Taxonomic Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Phocidae
Genus/Species: Monachus tropicalis
Common Name: Caribbean monk seal

Listing Status

Federal Status: Delisted (Extinct)
FL Status: Federally-designated Endangered
FNAI Ranks: Not ranked
IUCN Status: EX (Extinct)

Physical Description

The Caribbean monk seal was a large member of the Phocidae family that reached a length of eight feet (2.4 meters), and a weight between 375-600 pounds (170-270 kilograms).  Caribbean monk seals had a rounded head with a large extended muzzle, large eyes, upward opened nostrils, and long smooth whiskers (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, n.d.).   This species also had flipper-like limbs, a short tail, and well-developed blubber layer (Adam 2004). 

Life History

Little is known about the life history of the Caribbean monk seal.  Their diet primary consisted of fish and crustaceans (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, n.d.).

In Mexico, breeding peaked in December, with the Caribbean monk seal enduring long pupping seasons.  Females gave birth to a single juvenile each year (Davies 2008).  Females had four retractable nipples used to feed their young (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, n.d.).  Young monk seals were weaned two weeks after birth (Adam 2004).

Habitat and Distribution

Carribbean Monk Seal Distribution MapThe Caribbean monk seal inhabited marine waters and beaches in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the Western Atlantic.


Caribbean monk seals were hunted and killed for their meat, hide, and oil as early as 1494 when Spanish explorers began exploring the new world. Specimens of this species have been displayed in museums and zoos (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, n.d.). Other threats included increased development along coasts, which limited habitat for the species. The last confirmed sighting of a Caribbean monk seal was in 1952 at Serranilla Bank, between Jamaica and Nicaragua.

Conservation and Management

The Caribbean monk seal has been Delisted due to Extinction by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and is protected as a Federally-designated Endangered species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule External Website.  The FWC will submit a rule change to remove the species from the State’s Endangered and Threatened Species List.

Other Informative Links

Animal Diversity Web External Website
International Union for Conservation of Nature External Website
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration External Website
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile External Website



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Adam, P.J. 2004. Monachus tropicalis. Mammalian Species 747:1-9. American Society of Mammalogists.

Davies, L. 2008. "Monachus tropicalis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed August 01 2011 External Website 

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (n.d.). Caribbean monk seal (Monachus tropicalis). Retrieved August 1, 2011, from NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources: External Website 

Image Credit USFWS

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