Caribbean Monk Seal, We Hardly Knew Ye

Pity this busy monster, manunkind -- E.E. Cummings


If a species has not been seen in fifty years, it's assumed that there is nothing left to see. This is one way that species can be defined as extinct. And so, this summer, the planet says a sad adieu to the Caribbean Monk Seal, last seen fifty-six years ago. The reason for the extinction rests solely on the stooped shoulders of "manunkind".

Personally, I'm still hoping that the Caribbean Monk Seal is merely hiding, but the odds of that are admittedly astronomical. The official grim announcement was made Friday, June 6 by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which had spent the last five years trying to find any survivors.

Post Mortem of a Species

Usually, cute, friendly mammals have a pretty good chance of stirring up public support, but their friendliness was part of their undoing. They would swim up to people's boats to see what was going on. And "manunkind" just couldn’t resist the opportunity, especially the Europeans who began slaughtering them for food as early as Columbus's second voyage. The seals' blubber, oil and fur became as valuable as the meat. Not content to wipe out the indigenous peoples of the New World, they turned their attention to other mammals.

In death, the Caribbean Monk Seal now has the dubious distinction of being the first seal species made extinct from over hunting by humans.

The Caribbean Monk Seal was given the "endangered" status in 1967. (The same status currently held by polar bears). Once designated “endangered”, a species then goes up for review about every five years to keep their endangered status. A species gets removed from the endangered list for two reasons – when the species is doing really well, or if they become extinct.

Still Hope For Two Other Monk Seal Species

Although it's too late for the Caribbean Monk Seal, we can at least try to save other close relatives, the Hawaiian Monk Seal, of which there are less than 1200, and the Mediterranean Monk Seal, estimated to be at a mere 500 members left. The latter species is still often illegally hunted, usually by fishermen who consider them pests.

However, there are also those that are not being hunted and yet are dying off, often washing up dead on beaches. The culprit for them is still "manunkind". Seals eat trash thinking that it's food. They also get entangled in our fishing lines. Their traditional beaches used for giving birth (pupping) have suffered incredible erosion. They are also having trouble finding food due to global warming.

Goodbye, Caribbean Monk Seal. We hardly knew ye. Hopefully, there won’t be more species joining you in the Happy Hunting Grounds.

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  • Posted on June 18, 2008. Listed in:

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