Last week the Caribbean monk seal was officially declared extinct. There had not been a confirmed sighting since 1952, so the announcement by federal officials was not a surprise. But it was a sad acknowledgment that there is no longer any hope that survivors would somehow be discovered. These animals, who Columbus used to called “sea wolves,” are gone forever.
The Caribbean monk seal was the only seal native to the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. The large seals could grow up to 8 feet in length and weigh several hundred pounds. Back when Columbus first spotted them, they would gather– to rest, or to give birth and nurse their pups– in large groups on Florida’s beaches. During Columbusí second voyage in 1494, several seals were killed for meat. The seals were easy targets for hunters and in the centuries that followed thousands were killed for their blubber and skins.
The Caribbean monk seal is the first type of seal to go extinct from human causes.