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CARIBBEAN MONK SEAL EXPEDITION 1996

After the hurricane season we returned to Haiti in the spring of 1996, this time to the north coast and the Isle of La Tortue. Here are some extracts from our log:


POINTE DES OISEAUX ILE DE LA TORTUE (20º 00.50’ N 072º 45 .OO’W)

09-02-96 Interview with Daniel, middle aged sailor who has the large house by the landing stage at the village of La Croix. Daniel had seen us at Provo, he owns a 70' inter island sailing vessel 'Jacquelene' and carries cargo to and from Provo, Miami and other ports. His house is substantial and acts as a general stores as well. He is clearly a man of substance in the village and well known along the S coast of Ile de la Tortue. In 91-92 he, along with others, had seen a seal at Pte des Oiseaux. It was sitting on the rocks, but when it was observed it dived into the water and then clambered onto an upturned boat. The boat's owner was so frightened that he ran away. The seal was in the area for several days. Daniel had never seen one before nor since, but said it barked like a dog. Daniel speaks good English.

09-02-96 Interview with Elephete Loriston at the Cayonne bakery. Eliphete is a young fisherman. It would not have been possible for Daniel and Elephete to compare notes as we went straight from La Croix to Layonne leaving Daniel working on his boat. Elephete said he had seen a seal at Port des Oiseaux in 92 or 93, he thought. Many other people had seen it too. It barked like a dog, it was on the rocks and jumped into someone's boat. It was around the area for a few days. He had not seen another before or since. Elephete spoke no English and Mike translated.


PORT DE L'ECU 19º 54.92’W 073º.01.84’W

We arrived at 1540 on the afternoon of 10th February. We were approached by various local fishing boats and talked to them about the seal, but they were unable to help. Later a fishing boat of about 17ft approached us with an English speaking Haitian called Maxwell in charge. He had learnt good English in the Bahamas. He said he had heard we had lost something and could he help? We told him about the CMS and he confirmed he knew about seals and had seen two in the area of Pte Ouest on the Ile de La Tortue a few months ago lying on a beach.

14-02-96 Interviewed Marc Eliphete Joseph at the S pier Port au Prince.

He works for the harbour authority. It transpired after the discussion that Marc knew our interpreter's father and Mike had met Marc before. He is considered a responsible person. That we were able to interview him came about as Miles Sutherland Pilch (one of our crew) got talking to him and Marc then started volunteering information. The interview took place when I returned to the boat . Marc speaks good English and the interview took place in English with three other crew members present.
He started by explaining that he used to work on an American shrimp boat The Winds of Change (Alabama registered). For 6 months in 1988, they worked in Les Cayes - Ile a Vache - Aquin - St Louis du Sud area of Haiti. This area is on the SW side. He went on to explain that he had never seen seals in this part of Haiti nor he said in Les Cayamites

In 1987-8 he transferred to a treasure-seeking vessel, US owned, called Beacon. The owner lives in Miami and is 'a big millionaire', the Capt was called Steve and the chief mate was the father of the Capt. As an aside he said that Bob Carol, owner of a sailing boat based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, who comes regularly to Port au Prince, might be able to help us. The Beacon was looking for bronze cannon, gold, etc. and they spent several months in the area of Mole St Nicholas, which he described as an island. It is actually an isthmus. He was working in the Mole area for 2-3 months scuba diving looking for cannon. He says he saw seals in this area in 1987. He saw mothers teaching babies (they were yellow and black, not white he said) how to dive and protect themselves. He said he saw them along the coast down to the area of Bord de Mer Jean Rabel. It was here that he saw the mother and babies. He was at Mole for several months looking for brass cannon and anchors and saw the seals regularly.

He described them as being the same size as a large dolphin. He saw them at between 7 and 8 in the morning, he thought they made a squeak like a dolphin but he could not really hear the noise because of the noise from his GM diesel on the boat. He said they were black and white.

From the way Marc was talking it was difficult to separate these two experiences, which happened some 120nm apart. In 1988-9 he was in the area and visited Navassa 5 or 6 times. He called it La Navasse.
He saw seals regularly on the sandy beaches away from the pier, where work was taking place. They were black and white one had dog-like teeth sticking down out of the mouth, it was as though their teeth were too big for the mouth. They were canines; they were not like walrus teeth; he knew what a walrus was. The others had cat-like faces. He saw the seals in the water not by the pier but on the south side. ‘When they see boats they go to the beach’.

The same comments about size and time of day apply equally to the two sightings. We did not find out at what time of year he was there. This, we feel, is by far and away the most positive reported sighting we have had.

 

LA CROIX (20º 00.09'N 72º 43.33'W)

This day we received an e-mail from Ian Boyd confirming information received from Marc as being very diagnostic. "Overall", he said, "this is the best possible description of a CMS you could get from a fisherman." Excited, we left Ecu 0905 Thursday 22nd Feb en route for La Croix. Landed at Pte Saline (20º 03 .18'N 72º 57.72'W) and walked along long sandy beach to village of Pte Ouest, whilst a party went ahead in Gemini. Talked to the community. They had no knowledge of the seals.

Anchored off La Croix 1700. Friday 23rd Feb went back to the village of La Cayenne and got talking to someone who suggested we go to Pte des Oiseaux, about 2 nm from La Croix, and interview the people who had seen the seal in '92-3. We left for Pte des Oiseaux and were fortunate to meet on the shore the fisherman Dominic, who had seen the seal. He was with missionary Bob Kay who had photographed the animal 3 or 4 years ago. He was off the island until Monday.

After we had submitted this information to Dr. I L Boyd by telex, Boyd confirmed that sea lions bark, seals don't. Seals would be unlikely to jump into a boat, sea lions would do so. Our conclusion is that an escaped sea lion, possibly from a Miami sea-life park, was the cause of the '92-3 sighting.

 

 

 

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