Science

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A Hawaiian Monk Seal pup, a close relative of the Caribbean Monk Seal, lazes in the sun at the beach fronting Kiahuna Plantation Resort, in this Sept. 1, 2005 file photo.

Overhunting Was Demise of Caribbean Monk Seal

June 10, 2008 08:00 AM
by Cara McDonough
The species, which has not been seen for over 50 years, is the first seal to go extinct due to human interaction.

30-Second Summary

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Caribbean Monk Seals, which grew to be up to eight feet long in adulthood and lived in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and the west Atlantic Ocean, were easy targets for hunters while resting, birthing or nursing their pups on the beach, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The agency has now deemed the species extinct.

“Humans left the Caribbean monk seal population unsustainable after overhunting them in the wild,” said Kyle Baker, biologist for NOAA’s Fisheries Service southeast region. “Unfortunately, this lead to their demise and labels the species as the only seal to go extinct from human causes.”

The last confirmed sighting of a Caribbean Monk Seal was in 1952 in the Caribbean Sea between Jamaica and the Yucatán Peninsula.

The seal was listed as endangered on March 11, 1967, under the Endangered Species Preservation Act, and relisted on April 10, 1979. Since then there have been efforts to investigate reported sightings of the species, but none have been confirmed.

Proving a species extinct can be a challenge, according to Slate. Today, the World Conservation Union will label a species extinct only if “there is no reasonable doubt that the last individual has died.”

But the label now applies to the Caribbean Monk Seal without a doubt. The NOAA is seeking to remove the seals from the Endangered Species List. Species are removed when their populations are no longer threatened or endangered, or when they are declared extinct.

Headline Link: Caribbean Monk Seal officially extinct

Background: How are extinct species determined?

Related Topic: The Yangtze River Dolphin goes extinct, biodiversity decreasing

Reference: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the NOAA

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