The monk seal is any of the three species of earless seals belonging to the true seal family Phocidae. Out of the three species, the Caribbean monk seal wen extinct during the 20th century due to excessive hunting. The other two species face imminent extinction. These species are the only types of earless seals that can live in tropical waters.
The three species belong to two genera, Monachus and Neomonachus. Monachus monachus is the Mediterranean seal, Neomonachus schauinslandi is the Hawaiian seal, and Neomonachus tropicali is the now extinct Caribbean seal. They belong to the Phocini tribe within the Phocidae family.
The species varied in size, averaging 2.4 meters in length and weighing up to 230 kg. Like most other members of the Phocidae family, the monk seal species lack the
pinnae or ear flaps and they also lack the ability to control their flippers and rotated their hindflippers to aid in locomotion on land. These seals have generally thick bodies which store a large amount of blubber, although they are somewhat thinner in size compared to other seal species due to their predominantly warm habitats. The head is round and has whiskers or vibrissae which helps the seals find food on the bottom of the ocean.
Monk seal habitat and distribution
Just as the name suggests, the Hawaiian seal lives exclusively in the Hawaiian archipelago. The Mediterranean seal used to inhabit a wide range of coastal regions and beaches surrounding the Mediterranean sea, but due to the expansion of human habitats, populations have been mainly restricted to smaller, more isolated areas, with many populations taking refuge in caves. Caribbean seals used to be found in the temperate to warm waters, from the Caribbean Sea to the Gulf of Mexico, as well as on the western part of the Atlantic Ocean. These usually preferred to stay closer to the shores and not venture too far off in the ocean.
Diet and predation
Caribbean seals used to feed close to the shores and they also ventured into lagoons and reefs, only occasionally going into deeper waters. The two extant species have a diet consisting of a wide range of animals, from bony fish to crustaceans as well as cephalopods such as squid and octopuses.
While little is known about the Caribbean habits or the current mating behavior of the Mediterranean seal, it is suspected that these are polygynous – males are territorial and mate with several females. Most seals reach sexual maturity from 4 to 10 years of age. Monk seal females give birth to pups after a gestational period of up to a year and wean them after several weeks.