Can you picture the animal in the picture on Klein Curaçao, Klein Bonaire, Zeelandia Beach St. Eustatius, Baby Beach Aruba, or in Simpson Bay, St. Maarten?
A few hundred years before being formerly declared extinct in 1996, this seal was a major and common predator in the coral reef ecosystems of our islands.
The Caribbean Monk Seal is now sadly remembered as the only species of seal to be led to extinction by humans. The last confirmed sighting of a Caribbean Monk Seal occurred in 1952 at Seranilla Bank off of Honduras and Nicaragua. Large-scale hunting of the seals began when Spanish explorers arrived from Europe at the end of the 14th century, and continued until the 20th century. Caribbean Monk Seals were hunted intensely for their blubber (processed into oil), skins, and meat. Historical records show that Dutch settlers took regular sealing expeditions to Klein Curacao in the 1640s.
The seals also suffered from overfishing of their food source (reef fish and invertebrates such as lobsters and octopuses) as well as habitat loss through coastal development. A 2008 study by McClenachan and Cooper found that the estimated 233,000–338,000 monk seals that used to be spread across the Caribbean couldn’t survive on the depleted resources of today’s Caribbean reefs.