Caribbean Monk Seal Investigation
The Seamark Trust, a charitable company, is involved
with the conservation and preservation of endangered
Until 1995 there had been no concerted effort to
establish the status of the population of the Caribbean
monk seal (Monachus Tropicalis) and indeed there
had been only sporadic sightings, many unconfirmed.
The population of these unique warm water seals
has declined to critical levels during the twentieth
century. Whilst a major effort has gone into the
preservation of the endangered Mediterranean and
Hawaiian monk seals, whose numbers are measured in
hundreds rather than thousands, nothing has been
done to conserve the Caribbean monk seal. The objective
of the Seamark Trust is to locate and protect the
remaining Caribbean monk seals.
In 1993 The Seal Specialist Group of the International
Union for The Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recommended
that suitable monk seal habitat should be investigated. ‘In
particular’, they said,’remote areas
of suitable habitat along the Cuban coast (including
offshore islands) should be surveyed for the species.’ It
was against this background and as members of IUCN
The Seamark Trust have mounted a major and on going
survey of the Caribbean Sea.
For the first three seasons through a generous donation
the Seamark Trust used a 44 foot (13.4m) ocean going
sailing vessel of 25 ton TM.
In 1999 a 54 foot (16.3m) Irwin yacht was chartered
from Tortola and used as a platform for the investigation.
The area of investigation:
distribution of the Caribbean monk seal since
The area covered by the expedition from 1995 –9
included the south coasts of Puerto Rico, The Dominican
Republic and Haiti, the north east and south east
coasts of Jamaica, the north coast of Haiti, Providentiales
in The Turks and Caicos and a circumnavigation of
Cuba including her offshore islands.
The detailed results for the period to 31st December
1997 can be seen in: Circumstancial evidence for
the presence of monk seals in the West Indies by
I L Boyd and M P Stanfield (Oryx vol 32 no. 4 October.
1998, PDF format)
Summery of findings 1995 - 97
The findings to date raise hope that the Caribbean
monk seal classified as possibly extinct, may still
survive in the West Indies. The methodology used,
designed by Professor I L Boyd involved interviewing
fishermen showing photographs of a variety of marine
species and asking them to select those animals that
they had seen whilst fishing. The majority of fishermen
picked out barracuda, dolphins, sea turtles and sharks
as these species are common in the areas under investigation.
The manatee was also selected as it can be found
in small numbers in the region. BUT 23% of the total
sample also selected the monk seal, this was on a
par with those selecting the manatee.
Our further questioning revealed that a fisherman
may encounter a monk seal once in every five years
but the fishermen most likely to have seen them were
those that skin dived for fish, this leads us to
believe that the monk seal is rarely seen on the
Summery of findings 1999
Working with the Cuban Department of Science the
east Cuba coast was surveyed in May of 1999 and fishermen
were systematically interviewed.
There was no evidence that fishermen in this area
had, in living memory,seen monk seals.
Interviewing in Cuba