Three Monk Seal Species: One Extinct, Two Remaining

Up to about 70 years ago there were three types of monk seals on earth: Hawaiian monk seals, Mediterranean monk seals and Caribbean monk seals. The Caribbean monk seal numbered around 300,000 when Columbus landed in America. He spotted the seal during one of his voyages and called it the West Indian Seal. It is also known as Sea Wolf. When Columbus’s party first spotted the seals resting on a beach in August of 1494, they killed eight of them.

The seals were curious and not afraid of humans. They made easy targets for hunters who sought them out for their meat and furs. The killing continued for centuries until finally the last Caribbean monk seal was seen in 1952. It is now considered extinct.

While the maximum number of the Hawaiian and Mediterranean monk seals is less clear, it is clear that they were also hunted to near extinction and there are only an estimated 1,570 Hawaiian monk seals and only 600 – 700 Mediterranean monk seals remaining. In Hawaii the efforts of NOAA, various affiliates and volunteers including us have greatly improved the chances of survival of the Hawaiian monk seal. While the population has slowly increased over the last few years, the number of seals is still well below historic levels and the survival of the species and genus is not certain. You can help by reporting all monk seal sightings to NOAA at 888-256-9840, by staying at least 50’ away from seals on the beach and by telling others the story of these beautiful creatures so everyone learns to admire, respect and help conserve them.

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Hawaiaiin monk seal resting on Maui beach

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