[Federal Register Volume 73, Number 111 (Monday, June 9, 2008)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 32521-32526]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E8-12808]

[[Page 32521]]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 224

[Docket No. 080320453-8705-01]
RIN 0648-XG60

Endangered and Threatened Species; Proposed Rule to Remove the 
Caribbean Monk Seal from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened 

AGENCY:  National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration, Commerce.

ACTION:  Proposed rule.


SUMMARY:  We, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), have 
reviewed the status of the Caribbean monk seal (Monachus tropicalis) 
and conclude that the species is extinct. As a result, based on the 
best available information, we propose to delist the Caribbean monk 
seal under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

DATES:  Comments on this proposed rule must be received by 5 p.m., 
Eastern Time, on August 8, 2008. Requests for public hearing must be 
made in writing and received by July 24, 2008.

ADDRESSES:  You may submit comments, identified by the Regulation 
Identifier Number (RIN) 0648-XG60, by any of the following methods:
    Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public comments via 
the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.
    Mail: Assistant Regional Administrator, Protected Resources 
Division, NMFS, Southeast Regional Office, 263 13th Ave. South, St. 
Petersburg, FL 33701.
    Facsimile (fax): 727-824-5309.
    Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record 
and will generally be posted to http://www.regulations.gov without 
change. All Personal Identifying Information (for example, name, 
address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly 
accessible. Do not submit Confidential Business Information or 
otherwise sensitive or protected information.
    NMFS will accept anonymous comments. Attachments to electronic 
comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect, or 
Adobe PDF file formats only. The proposed rule and status review are 
also available electronically at the NMFS website at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/protres.htm.

Office at the address above, at 727-824-5312; or Marta Nammack, NMFS, 
Office of Protected Resources at 301-713-1401. Reference materials 
regarding these determinations are available upon request or on the 
Internet at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov.



    Under the ESA, a list of endangered and threatened wildlife and 
plant species must be maintained. NMFS lists threatened and endangered 
species under its jurisdiction in 50 CFR parts 223 and 224. The U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) maintains the official lists of 
threatened and endangered species, which are published at 50 CFR 17.11 
(for animals) and 17.12 (for plants). NMFS and USFWS regulations 
published at 50 CFR, part 424, specify the procedures and requirements 
for adding or removing species from the list of endangered and 
threatened species.
    We are additionally required by ESA section 4(c)(2) and 50 CFR 
424.12 to review each species on the list every 5 years (``5-year 
review'') to determine whether a species' classification on the list of 
threatened or endangered species is accurate. We evaluate whether the 
species continues to meet the definition of a threatened or endangered 
species, and we evaluate the five factors under ESA section 4(a)(1) to 
specify the ongoing reasons for the species' status:
    (1) The present or threatened destruction, modification or 
curtailment of its habitat or range; (2) overutilization for 
commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (3) 
disease or predation; (4) the inadequacy of existing regulatory 
mechanisms; and (5) other natural or manmade factors affecting its 
continued existence. A species may be delisted pursuant to section 
424.11(d) if the best scientific and commercial data available 
substantiate that the species is neither endangered nor threatened for 
one or more of the following reasons: (1) the species is considered 
extinct; (2) the species is considered to be recovered; and/or (3) the 
original data available when the species was listed, or the 
interpretation of such data, was in error.
    We initiated a 5-year review for the Caribbean monk seal on 
November 29, 2006 (71 FR 39327), to ensure that the listing 
classification of the species endangered is accurate. We completed the 
5-year review on March 7, 2008. The 5-year review synthesized the best 
available scientific and commercial data on the status of the species 
and concluded that the Caribbean monk seal is extinct. Therefore, we 
propose to delist the Caribbean monk seal. Below, we present a summary 
of the data on which this proposal is based, including a review of the 
taxonomy, biology, life history, and historic distribution of the 
Caribbean monk seal; previous statutory and regulatory actions 
associated with this species; and an analysis of the best available 
information on the Caribbean monk seals' status.

Taxonomic Classification and Phylogeny

    The Caribbean monk seal, also known as the Caribbean seal, the West 
Indian seal, and the West Indian monk seal, was described from the 
scientific literature in 1849 from a specimen taken in Jamaica (Gray, 
1849). Early references to this species referred to these animals as 
sea wolves, hair seals, or simply seals. Although the species had 
several common names, it is taxonomically described according to the 
    Kingdom: Animalia
    Phylum: Chordata
    Class: Mammalia
    Subclass: Eutheria
    Order: Carnivora
    Suborder: Pinnipedia
    Family: Phocidae
    Subfamily Monachinae
    Genus: Monachus
    Species: tropicalis
    The genus Monachus includes 3 allopatric species: M. tropicalis 
(Caribbean monk seals), M. schauinslandi (Hawaiian monk seals), and M. 
monachus (Mediterranean monk seals). A thorough description of the 
Caribbean monk seal was completed by Adam (2004). Caribbean monk seals 
are more closely related to Mediterranean monk seals than to Hawaiian 
monk seals (Wyss, 1988). However, the phylogenetic relationship among 
species of monk seals remains in dispute (Lavigne, 1998). No genetic 
studies of Caribbean monk seals have been conducted.


    The Caribbean monk seal had a typical seal-like appearance, with a 
well-developed blubber layer, flipper-like limbs, a short tail, and a 
smooth body contour. The head was large and prominent, its eyes were 
large and light reddish-brown in color (Ward, 1887), and external 
pinnae were absent. Pups were born black in color and remained that way 
for about 1 year (Allen, 1887a). Adult pelage was variably dark 
dorsally (brown to black) and graded into a lighter yellowish-white 
countershade ventrally. Ventral fur ranged from pale yellow to 
yellowish-gray or yellowish-brown and was sometimes mottled with

[[Page 32522]]

darker patches. The front and sides of the muzzle and the edge of the 
full and fleshy lips were yellowish-white.
    Caribbean monk seals were sexually dimorphic females were smaller 
than males (Allen, 1887b). However, the size difference was slight and 
could not be used to distinguish between the sexes. The two sexes were 
also alike in color and form (Allen, 1887b). Females had 2 pairs of 
mammae (Ward, 1887). Measurements of adults of both sexes generally 
ranged from 2.0-2.5 m (Allen, 1887b; Allen, 1887c; Ward, 1887).
    Caribbean monk seal vocalizations have been described as roaring, 
pig-like snorting, moaning, dog-like barks, growls, and snarls (Gosse, 
1851; Hill, 1843; Nesbitt, 1836; Townsend, 1909). Pup vocalizations 
have been reported as a long, drawn out, guttural ``ah'' with a series 
of vocal hitches during enunciation (Ward, 1887). Underwater 
vocalizations of Caribbean monk seals have not been described and are 
    Both Mediterranean and Hawaiian monk seals are known to consume a 
variety of fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans (Marchessaux, 1989; 
Goodman-Lowe, 1998), and it has been speculated that Caribbean monk 
seals had a similar diet (Nesbitt, 1836; Gosse, 1851; Ward, 1887). The 
three species of Monachus have no obvious functional dental or 
osteological features to suggest that their feeding habits are 
significantly different from each other (Adam and Berta, 2002).
    The incidence of disease in the wild has not been reported, but an 
occurrence of a condition that may have been cataracts has been noted 
(Gaumer, 1917; Ward, 1887). The nasal mite Halarachne americana was 
recovered in great numbers and in all stages of its life cycle from the 
respiratory passages of a single captive specimen. The mite, which is 
only known from Caribbean monk seals and has not been identified from 
any other species or habitats since that time, also may now be extinct 
(Adam, 2004). Caribbean monk seals were reported to have heavy 
parasitic helminth loads (Adam and Garcia, 2003; Ward, 1887), but a 
detailed description and species identification was not decribed.

Life History

    Most observations of life history and behavior of Caribbean monk 
seals were based on short-term observations of seals in isolated 
colonies following heavy exploitation of the species. Due to the 
decline of this species after the arrival of the Europeans in the wider 
Caribbean region and its rarity by the time the species was first 
described in the scientific literature, remarkably little is known 
about its life history. Prior to its depletion, Caribbean monk seals 
hauled out in groups of up to 500 individuals (Nesbitt, 1836). Accounts 
of Caribbean monk seals were usually from isolated islands, keys, and 
atolls surrounded by shallow, reef-protected waters, and only 
occasionally from mainland beaches. Haul out sites were usually sandy 
beaches that remain exposed at high tide (Gaumer, 1917; and Hill, 1843; 
as summarized in Adam, 2004; Kerr, 1824; Ward, 1887), but also included 
near shore rocks and rocky islets (Allen, 1880; as cited in Adam and 
Garcia, 2003). Haul out sites typically had sparse or no vegetation and 
no fresh water (Ward, 1887). Adam and Garcia (2003) and Ward (1887) 
reported that the seals usually hauled out on beaches to rest in the 
early morning, though sometimes they would haul out and rest overnight.
    Very little is known about the effects of over-exploitation on sex 
ratios of the species. The male:female ratio of specimens collected 
during a 1900 expedition in Mexico was 24:76, but by then the species 
was already severely depleted. Because such data are limited to a 
single sample size from one colony, it is not possible to determine 
whether that reported sex ratio is representative, reflective of 
previous hunting on the sex ratio of the population, or due to some 
other unknown factor. Therefore, the relevance of those data to life 
history characteristics should be interpreted with caution.
    Observations of feeding seals have not been reported, and there are 
no reports of prey items from the few examinations of stomach contents 
cited in the available literature. Pregnant females were known only 
from the Triangle Keys off Mexico, where a newborn suckling pup and 
five females with fetuses were collected in early December 1886 (Ward, 
1887) and a single pregnant seal was killed in late June 1900 (original 
unpublished field notes of W.E. Nelson as cited in Adam and Garcia, 
2003). Adam and Garcia (2003) speculate that Caribbean monk seals had 
low pupping synchrony due to the limited seasonal variations in climate 
and prey abundance. An annual birth rate of 15 percent has been 
calculated, but this is likely an underestimate (Rice, 1973). Rice 
(1973) concluded that females rarely bore young in successive years and 
likely produced a pup every other year; however, research on Hawaiian 
monk seals (Johanos et al., 1994) and Mediterranean monk seals (Johnson 
et al., 2006) has demonstrated that pupping in successive years is 
common for those species. Weaning reportedly began 2 weeks after 
parturition; however, this also may be an underestimate based on 
weaning behavior in Hawaiian and Mediterranean monk seals. Pups 
apparently developed quickly (Nesbitt, 1836). Subadult seals were 
speculated to have foraged nocturnally in shallow, nearshore waters to 
avoid direct competition with adults, which fed at dawn and dusk (Adam 
and Garcia, 2003). Caribbean monk seals were estimated to have a life 
span of 20-30 years (Adam 2004), but long-term studies of the species 
in the wild were not conducted. However, this estimate is consistent 
with that of the Hawaiian monk seals, which is thought to have a life 
span of approximately 25-30 years.


    The historic distribution of Caribbean monk seals has been 
estimated from historical sightings, archeological records, fossil 
evidence, and geographical features bearing names suggestive of their 
presence (Adam and Garcia, 2003; Adam, 2004). The species' northernmost 
record is from a fossil recovered near Charleston, South Carolina. 
There is evidence that Caribbean monk seals used mainland beaches of 
North or Central America as haul-out sites in great numbers. Most 
sightings records were from isolated islands, cays, and reefs in the 
eastern Gulf of Mexico (Ray, 1961; Timm et al., 1997) and western 
Caribbean Sea. The only evidence Caribbean monk seals occurred in the 
Lesser Antilles is from archeological remains in the northern end of 
the chain (Wing, 1992) and a single sighting record (Timm et al., 
1997). A few sighting records, archeological finds, and suggestive 
place names extend the known range of Caribbean monk seals to include 
the northern coast of South America (Timm et al., 1997; Debrot, 2000).

Previous Regulatory and Statutory Actions for the Caribbean Monk Seal

    The Caribbean monk seal was listed as endangered in 1967 under the 
Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 (32 FR 4001; March 11, 
1967) and then again in 1979 following its re-assessment under the ESA 
(44 FR 21288; April 10, 1979). The first Caribbean monk seal 5-year 
review was published on November 9, 1984 (49 FR 44774). At the time of 
that review, no sightings or evidence of Caribbean monk seals were 
documented since the last confirmed sighting at Seranilla Bank, between 
Jamaica and the Yucatan Peninsula, in 1952. Therefore, that 5-year 
review concluded that the best

[[Page 32523]]

available information indicated the Caribbean monk seal may be extinct.
    Following the 1984 status review, the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission 
contracted a study to interview local fishermen, residents, and sailors 
along the north coast of Haiti. Although there were two reported seal 
sightings obtained during the survey, there was no tangible evidence to 
confirm whether those sightings involved Caribbean monk seals or some 
other species. Based upon a credible account of a sighting, however, 
some isolated animals were believed to potentially remain in some 
remote regions off the northern coast of Haiti (Woods and Hermanson, 
1987). A subsequent survey of fishermen in waters of Haiti and Jamaica 
also generated a few oral accounts of seal sightings, but again, there 
was no corroborating proof that the sightings involved seals, much less 
Caribbean monk seals (Boyd and Stanfield, 1998). We decided not to 
delist the species in 1999, however, because the question of the 
possible existence of a remnant population in the wild remained as a 
result of these surveys.
    Since the time of these additional surveys, there has been no new 
information to support the continued existence of Caribbean monk seals. 
A review of sightings and stranding data provided evidence of several 
positively identified arctic phocids (true seals, or earless seals) in 
tropical and sub-tropical waters of the Western North Atlantic from 
1917 through 1996 (Mignucci-Giannoni and Odell, 2001). Due to confirmed 
sightings of arctic species in the Caribbean region outside their 
normal ranges, mostly hooded seals (Cystophora cristata), and lack of 
any Caribbean monk seal sightings since 1952, the authors concluded 
that the unidentified sightings in the period reviewed were not 
Caribbean monk seals (Mignucci-Giannoni and Odell, 2001). We recently 
analyzed data between 1996 and 2007 and determined 22 additional 
sightings of hooded seals have been confirmed in southeast U.S. waters 
in that time period, of which 7 occurred in the Caribbean Sea 
(Southeast U.S. Marine Mammal Stranding Database, 2007). No confirmed 
sightings of Caribbean monk seals have been reported since 1952.

Detailed Information on Sightings of the Caribbean Monk Seal

    Since passage of the ESA, several efforts have been made to 
investigate unconfirmed reports of the species in or near the Caribbean 
Sea, Gulf of Mexico, the Southern Bahamas, and Atlantic coast of the 
Greater Antilles. There have been several reports of pinnipeds within 
the range of Caribbean monk seals since the last authoritative sighting 
at the Seranilla Banks in 1952. Unconfirmed sightings of pinnipeds up 
to that time resulted in speculation that the Caribbean monk seal still 
existed in a few, isolated colonies as late as the mid-to-late 1900s. 
The historical accounts of the species, unsuccessful expeditions to 
locate remnant colonies, and confirmed sightings of pinniped species 
other than Caribbean monk seal within the species' historical range now 
provide useful perspective on the species' decline. The following 
provides a brief historical account of sightings and survey efforts for 
the species.
    1494: The first sightings records of Caribbean monk seals were made 
during the second voyage of Columbus, when eight individuals were 
killed for their meat (Kerr, 1824).
    1700s to 1900s: Caribbean monk seals were exploited intensively for 
their oil, and to a lesser extent for food, scientific study, and 
zoological collection following European colonization (Allen, 1887b; 
Elliot, 1884; Townsend, 1923; Moore, 1953, Ward, 1887).
    1886: Caribbean monk seals were reported to occur in the Triangle 
Keys in the Gulf of Campeche, where 49 seals were killed during a 
scientific expedition (Ward, 1887).
    1897: The New York Aquarium acquired two specimens captured from 
the Triangle Keys (Townsend, 1909).
    1906: On February 25, 1906, fishermen killed a Caribbean monk seal 
five miles off Key West, Florida. The 1906 account was the first 
sighting of the species in Florida in approximately 30 years (Townsend, 
    1909: The New York Aquarium received four live Caribbean monk seals 
from a dealer in Progresso, Yucatan. At the time, the last known 
population of the Caribbean monk seal was restricted to islands and 
reefs off the Yucatan, Mexico (Townsend, 1909).
    1922: A monk seal was killed by a fisherman near Key West, Florida, 
on March 15, 1922. This was the last confirmed sighting of the seal in 
the United States. Townsend noted a small breeding colony still 
remained in the Triangulos reef group (i.e., the Triangle Islands) in 
the Campeche Bank islands off Mexico (Townsend, 1923).
    1932: Following interviews with men having seen seals in the lower 
Laguna Madre region of Texas, Gordon Gunter concluded that a few 
Caribbean monk seals were scattered along the Texas coast as late as 
1932 (Gunter, 1947). It was later suggested that the sightings of seals 
along the Texas coast were probably feral California sea lions (Gunter, 
    1952: C.B. Lewis made the last authoritative sighting of Caribbean 
monk seals at a small seal colony off Seranilla Banks (Colombia) in 
1952, located between Jamaica and the Yucatan peninsula (Rice, 1973).
    1973: The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and 
Natural Resources (IUCN) distributed circulars in both English and 
Spanish throughout the Caribbean region in 1973, offering U.S. $500 for 
information on recent sightings of the species. No confirmed sightings 
were made (Boulva, 1979).
    1973: The USFWS conducted aerial surveys off the Yucatan, south to 
Nicaragua, and east to Jamaica of all the areas where Rice suggested 
that Caribbean monk seals may still exist. The species was not sighted 
in the survey area (Kenyon, 1977).
    1980: Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Arctic 
Biological Station, supported a search for evidence of Caribbean monk 
seals in remote islands of the southeastern Bahamas by vessel and 
interviews with local fishermen. The vessel survey produced no 
sightings of seals. Interviews with fishermen produced a few new 
accounts of seals in the area during the 1960s and 1970s, but the 
sightings could not be confirmed as Caribbean monk seals. (Sergeant et 
al., 1980)
    1984: From September 5-15, 1984, a survey was conducted across the 
Gulf of Mexico to Campeche, Mexico, aboard the Scripps Institution of 
Oceanography research vessel, Robert G. Sproul. The survey crew landed 
at three island groups off the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula 
considered possible haul-out sites still used by monk seals: Islas 
Triangulos, Cayo Arenas and Arrecife Alacran. Another island, Cayo 
Arcas, was visited by helicopter on September 7, 1984. The survey 
yielded no seal sightings or evidence of their continued existence 
(LeBoeuf et al., 1986).
    1985: The U.S. Marine Mammal Commission contracted for a survey of 
local fishermen, coastal residents, and sailors in northern Haiti. Two 
of 77 people interviewed reported having seen a seal, one of which - a 
sighting at le Rat in the Baie de l'Acul in 1981 - was considered a 
reliable account. In neither case, however, was it possible to confirm 
the sighting as a Caribbean monk seal (Woods and Hermanson, 1987).
    1996: The IUCN Seal Specialist Group listed the Caribbean monk seal 
as extinct on its Red List of threatened and endangered species (Seal 
Specialist Group, 1996).
    1997: Based on interviews with 93 fishermen in northern Haiti and 
Jamaica during 1997, it was concluded that there

[[Page 32524]]

was a likelihood that Caribbean monk seals may still survive in this 
region of the West Indies. Fishermen were asked to select marine 
species known to them from randomly arranged pictures: 22.6 percent 
(n=21) selected monk seals of which 78 percent (n=16) had seen at least 
one in the past 1-2 years (Boyd and Stanfield, 1998).
    2001: A review of seal sightings and marine mammal stranding data 
in the Southeast U.S. and Caribbean region documented evidence of 
several pinnipeds positively identified as arctic phocids between 1917 
and 1996 that had strayed into the tropical and subtropical waters of 
the Western North Atlantic. Due to confirmed sightings of arctic 
species, mostly hooded seals (Cystophora cristata) in the Caribbean 
region outside their normal ranges, confirmed sightings and recaptures 
of feral California sea lions that had escaped from captivity, and lack 
of any confirmed Caribbean monk seal sightings since 1952, the authors 
concluded that unidentified sightings since 1952 were likely species 
other than Caribbean monk seals (Mignucci-Giannoni and Odell, 2001).
    2007: Between 1996 and 2008, 22 additional, confirmed sightings of 
hooded seals have been reported from the tropical and subtropical 
waters of the Western North Atlantic, including seven from the 
Caribbean Sea (Southeast U.S. Marine Mammal Stranding Database data, 
    Although Caribbean monk seals could be cryptic while at sea and a 
low number of individuals in a population may lower the detectability 
of individuals, hauled out individuals at rest or females with pups 
would be conspicuous to an observer. The United Nations Environment 
Programme, Caribbean Environment Programme, was contacted in December 
2007 regarding any new information on surveys or sightings of Caribbean 
monk seals that may have been missed by NMFS' review of sightings and 
stranding data; however, the inquiry resulted in no new information. 
With pervasive human presence in the wider Caribbean region and the 
necessity for seals to haul-out to rest and pup, it would be expected 
that any remaining individuals in the wild would have been sighted and 
confirmed over the past 50 years. Furthermore, there are few, if any, 
remaining areas where Caribbean monk seals were known to occur that 
have not been frequented by at least periodic human visits (e.g., 
fishing activities, recreational activities, and scientific 
expeditions). No Caribbean monk seal sightings have been reported from 
the numerous scientific surveys conducted in the former range of the 
species (e.g., avian nesting colonies, sea turtle nesting beaches, 
coral reef studies, and other biological and ecological research). 
Fishermen, shrimping boats, and abandoned camps have been ubiquitous 
throughout the species' known hauling grounds for decades (Kenyon, 
1977; LeBoeuf et al., 1986).
    Because the range of Caribbean monk seal lies well outside the 
normal distribution of all other pinnipeds, sightings of seals are 
remarkable events in the wider Caribbean region. NMFS' analysis of 
stranding data shows that the occurrence of arctic phocids outside 
their normal ranges occurs with some regularity. Current technology 
allows for near real-time communication when such rare or unusual 
species are sighted. Better methods also exist to confirm species 
identification when such sightings are made (e.g., photographs and 
genetic analysis of tissue samples). Although some seal sightings 
inevitably are not identifiable to a particular species, all those that 
have been confirmed in recent decades within the known range of the 
Caribbean monk seal have proven to be other species, namely feral 
California sea lions (Rice 1973), manatees (Trichechus manatus), or 
hooded seals (Mignucci-Giannoni and Odell, 2001; NMFS Southeast U.S. 
Marine Mammal Stranding Database data, 2007). The occurrence of 
juvenile hooded seals in subtropical and tropical waters (outside the 
normal range of these seals) occurs with enough frequency to account 
for most recent pinniped sightings within the former range of the 
Caribbean monk seal (Mignucci-Giannoni and Haddow, 2002; Mignucci-
Giannoni and Odell, 2001).
    A sufficient amount of time has passed since the last sighting of 
this species to indicate clearly the status of this species. The 
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna 
and Flora (CITES) and the IUCN have set 50 years with no sightings as 
the cut-off for species extinction (IUCN, 1982). In 1949, the 
International Conference on the Protection of Nature (United Nations 
Scientific Conference on the Conservation and Utilization of Resources) 
included the Caribbean monk seal in a list of 14 mammals whose survival 
was considered to be a matter of international concern requiring 
immediate protection (Westermann, 1953). However, the last confirmed 
sighting of the species occurred in 1952, limiting any opportunity for 
conservation efforts of any remaining animals in the wild. It has been 
over 50 years since the last confirmed sighting of Caribbean monk seals 
in the wild despite multiple survey efforts to locate the species. 
Solow (1993) used survey data of Caribbean monk seals to demonstrate 
statistically that the likelihood of extinction is high based on the 
lack of sightings of this species. The IUCN concluded the Caribbean 
monk seal was extinct in 1996 (Seal Specialist Group, 1996), but the 
species remained listed under the ESA in the United States based on the 
results of survey data conducted after the 1984 status review 
indicating a possibility that some Caribbean monk seals persisted for a 
few years after their last confirmed sighting in 1952 at Seranilla 
    Although there were no sightings, it is possible that the Caribbean 
monk seal persisted for a short period in the years following the last 
confirmed sighting in 1952 at Seranilla Bank. If so, with an estimated 
life span of 20-30 years, some newborn individuals may have possibly 
persisted in the wild between the 1950s and early 1980s. If any remnant 
population did survive, it seems likely they consisted of scattered 
individuals, with no remaining colonies large enough to be viable in 
the wild. Considering the absence of seals sightings since 1952, the 
fact that all confirmed seal sightings have been of other species, and 
the ubiquitous presence of humans throughout the species' range, the 
Caribbean monk seal appears to have been extirpated before any 
meaningful conservation and recovery efforts could be taken for the 
    Although documentation of harvest levels and practices that led to 
this species' population decline is nearly absent, it is evident from 
early reports that relatively large numbers of seals persisted in at 
least some areas as late as the early 1800s and that their precipitous 
decline in abundance was due to heavy exploitation by sealers and 
others. During the 1800s their distribution became increasingly 
fragmented. By the time scientific expeditions were organized in the 
late 1800s to document and study the species, their range was already 
drastically curtailed. Rice (1973) noted that the last confirmed 
sighting of this species was in 1952 at Seranilla Banks in the western 
Caribbean. The Caribbean monk seal population was already severely 
depleted, and likely extirpated throughout most, and possibly all, of 
its range prior to the passage of the ESA and Marine Mammal Protection 

[[Page 32525]]

Consideration of the Factors Listed under Section 4(a)(1) of the ESA

    The two main factors leading to the listing of the Caribbean monk 
seal as endangered are the modification and curtailment of its habitat 
and range, and overutilization for commercial and educational purposes. 
Details about these factors and how they impacted the species are 
provided below, but because we have determined that this species is 
extinct, they no longer have any bearing on the status of the species.

Modification and Curtailment of its Habitat and Range

    When hauled out on beaches, Caribbean monk seals were reported to 
have been sensitive to human disturbance (Allen, 1880; Gaumer, 1917; 
Ward, 1887). As with both Hawaiian and Mediterranean monk seals, 
Caribbean monk seals apparently became sensitized to human presence 
after exposure to hunting or other human activity. Thus, although many 
recent descriptions of monk seals state that they are highly sensitive 
to human disturbance, some accounts, including early accounts of the 
species (e.g., E.W. Nelson, as cited in Adam and Garcia, 2003), 
describe them as being very approachable when hauled out on beaches. 
When disturbed, Caribbean monk seals reportedly returned to the water 
where they remained until the people or vessels left the area (Adam and 
Garcia, 2003; Allen, 1880). As human settlements expanded in areas 
inhabited by this species and persistent hunting reinforced evasive 
seal behaviors, avoidance of human presence near populated shorelines 
and areas regularly visited by fishermen likely caused seals to abandon 
historic haul-out sites. Human encroachment also likely exacerbated 
stresses on the population as it declined. Although the species was 
reported as common in the early to mid 1700s, it was already considered 
rare by the mid 1880s (Allen, 1887b; Elliot, 1884; Gratacap, 1900).

Overutilization for Commercial and Educational Purposes

    Caribbean monk seals were utilized as a source of meat by early 
mariners and heavily exploited as a source of oil following European 
colonization (Allen, 1880). Other human-caused factors, such as 
entanglement and drowning in fishing nets or slaughter by fishermen 
viewing the seals as competitors for fish, contributed to their decline 
(Rice, 1973). Caribbean monk seals were also killed for scientific 
collection and study, as well as for display in zoological gardens. 
Adam (2004) provides an excellent review of the historical exploitation 
of Caribbean monk seals. He reports the species was the most readily 
exploited source of oil in the tropical West Atlantic Ocean prior to 
the early 1800s, and that they were hunted to near extinction for their 
blubber until the early 1900s.
    Blubber was processed and used for lubrication, coating the bottom 
of boats, and as lamp and cooking oil. Caribbean monk seal skins were 
sought to make trunk linings, articles of clothing (e.g., caps and 
belts), straps, and bags. In the early 1700s, a girdle fashioned from a 
Caribbean monk seal pelt was believed to relieve lower back pain. At 
least some sailors reportedly prized monk seal pelts believing that 
their hairs became erect during rough seas, but remained flat in calm 
seas. The Swiss naturalist Konrad Gesner reported accounts from 
seafarers in the Caribbean (near the island of Hispaniola) in the 
1550s, writing: ``Its hair is reputed to be of such a wondrous nature 
that the skins or belts are worn by mariners. When thunderstorms, 
tempests and other inclement weather is nigh, the hair shall rise and 
bristle, but when it turns still and mild, it shall lay down smoothly'' 
(Gesner, 1558, as cited in Johnson, 2004).
    Caribbean monk seals were taken for food by sailors stranded on the 
Arricifes Viboras (Cuba) in 1520, on the Islas de Lobos (Veracruz, 
Mexico) in 1524, Dry Tortugas (Florida) in 1742, and in the Triangle 
Keys (Mexico) in 1846. Guano gatherers visiting the Triangle Keys in 
1856 reportedly made a bonfire of 100 barrels of Caribbean monk seal 
skins and skeletons left behind by sealers, suggesting that they were 
heavily exploited for their oil in this region. Fishermen sometimes 
hunted the seals for meat until about 1885. In at least one instance, 
two monk seals were killed simply ''for fun'' (Allen, 1880). Aside from 
heavy hunting pressure by humans, the only known natural predator 
reported is an unidentified species of shark (Fernandez de Oviedo, 
    As a result of this species' increasing rarity in the wild, live 
specimens were eagerly sought by zoological gardens following the 
discovery of remnant populations in the late 1800s. In 1897, two live 
specimens sold for $50.00 each, and dead or mounted specimens also were 
sold to museums. Two scientific expeditions to the Triangle Keys are 
believed to have contributed to the extirpation in that region. On 4 
days in December 1886, 49 seals were killed in the Triangle Keys 
(Allen, 1887; Ward, 1887). Live specimens obtained by the New York 
Aquarium in 1897 and 1909 also were captured from the Triangle Keys 
(Townsend, 1909).

Listing Determination

    Based upon the best available commercial and scientific 
information, we have determined that the Caribbean monk seal has become 
extinct. A sufficient period of time has passed since the last 
confirmed sighting of the species, and the best available information 
supports this finding. Therefore, we propose to remove the species from 
the endangered species list.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited in this rulemaking is 
available upon request from the NMFS (see ADDRESSES).
    Peer Review
    On July 1, 1994, we and the USFWS published a series of policies 
regarding delistings under the ESA, including a policy for peer review 
of scientific data (59 FR 34270). In December 2004, the Office of 
Management and Budget (OMB) issued a Final Information Quality Bulletin 
for Peer Review establishing minimum peer review standards, a 
transparent process for public disclosure of peer review planning, and 
opportunities for public participation. The OMB Bulletin, implemented 
under the Information Quality Act (Public Law 106-554), is intended to 
enhance the quality and credibility of the Federal Government's 
scientific information, and applies to influential or highly 
influential scientific information disseminated on or after June 16, 
2005. To satisfy our requirements under our peer review policy and the 
OMB Bulletin, independent peer review was obtained from three 
individual subject matter experts to ensure the best biological and 
commercial information was used to make the recommendation to delist 
the species due to extinction. Peer review was also obtained to ensure 
that reviews by recognized experts were incorporated into the 5-year 
review that supports this proposal to delist the Caribbean monk seal, 
and we incorporated the peer review comments prior to dissemination of 
this proposed rulemaking. The 5-year review upon which the information 
in this proposed rule is based was completed for the Caribbean monk 
seal on March 7, 2008, and is available on our website (see ADDRESSES).

Public Comments

    To ensure that final action resulting from this proposed rule will 
be as accurate and effective as possible and be based upon the best 
available scientific

[[Page 32526]]

and commercial information, we solicit comment from the public, other 
governmental agencies, the scientific community, industry, and any 
other interested parties. Title 50, CFR 424.16(c)(3) requires the 
Secretary of Commerce to promptly hold at least one public hearing if 
any person requests one within 45 days of publication of a proposed 
regulation to change the listed status of a species under the ESA. 
Requests for public hearing must be made in writing (see DATES and 
ADDRESSES). Such hearings provide the opportunity for interested 
individuals and parties to give comments, exchange information and 
opinions, and engage in a constructive dialogue concerning this 
proposed rule. We encourage the public's involvement in such ESA 


National Environmental Policy Act

    The 1982 amendments to the ESA, in section 4(b)(1)(A), restrict the 
information that may be considered when assessing species for listing 
to the best scientific and commercial data available. Based on this 
limitation of criteria for a listing decision and the opinion in 
Pacific Legal Foundation v. Andrus, 657 F 2d 829 (6th Cir.1981), we 
have concluded that ESA listing actions are not subject to the 
environmental assessment requirements of the National Environmental 
Policy Act. (see also NOAA Administrative Order 216 6.)

Executive Order (E.O.) 12866, Regulatory Flexibility Act

    As noted in the Conference Report on the 1982 amendments to the 
ESA, economic impacts cannot be considered when assessing the status of 
a species. Therefore, the economic analysis requirements of the 
Regulatory Flexibility Act are not applicable to the listing process. 
In addition, this rule is exempt from review under E. O. 12866.

Paperwork Reduction Act

    This proposed rule does not contain a collection-of-information 
requirement for the purposes of the Paperwork Reduction Act.


    E.O. 13132 requires agencies to take into account any federalism 
impacts of regulations under development. It includes specific 
consultation directives for situations where a regulation will preempt 
state law, or impose substantial direct compliance costs on state and 
local governments (unless required by statute). Neither of these 
circumstances is applicable to this proposed listing determination. In 
keeping with the intent of the Administration and Congress to provide 
continuing and meaningful dialogue on issues of mutual State and 
Federal interest, this proposed rule will be given to the relevant 
state agencies in each state in which the Caribbean monk seal formerly 
occurred, and each will be invited to comment.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 224

    Administrative practice and procedure, Endangered and threatened 
species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, 

    Dated: June 3, 2008.
Samuel D. Rauch, III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
    For the reasons set out in the preamble, we propose to amend 50 CFR 
part 224 as follows:


    1. The authority citation for part 224 continues to read as 

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1531 1543 and 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.
    2. Amend Sec.  224.101(b) by removing the term ``Caribbean monk 
seal (Monachus tropicalis);''.
[FR Doc. E8-12808 Filed 6-6-08; 8:45 am]