After five years of futile efforts to find or confirm sightings of any Caribbean monk seals — even just one — the U.S. government on Friday announced that the species is officially extinct and the only seal to vanish due to human causes. “Humans left the Caribbean monk seal population unsustainable after overhunting them,” Kyle Baker, a National Marine Fisheries Service biologist, said.
“Unfortunately, this led to their demise and labels the species as the only seal to go extinct from human causes.”
A Caribbean monk seal — the only subtropical seal native to the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico — had not been seen for more than 50 years. The last confirmed sighting was in 1952 at Seranilla Bank, between Jamaica and the Yucatan Peninsula.
The United States listed the species as endangered in 1967. The fisheries service will now have the species removed from the list.
“Caribbean monk seals were first discovered during Columbus’s second voyage in 1494, when eight seals were killed for meat,” the fisheries service noted. “Following European colonization from the 1700s to 1900s, the seals were exploited intensively for their blubber, and to a lesser extent for food, scientific study and zoological collection. Blubber was processed into oil and used for lubrication, coating the bottom of boats, and as lamp and cooking oil. Seal skins were sought to make trunk linings, articles of clothing, straps and bags.”