Headlines – News – Articles
14th May, 2014

New genus, Neomonachus, recommended for Caribbean, Hawaiian monk seals

Recent Publications

open_access_orangeDirk-Martin Scheel, Graham Slater, Sergios-Orestis Kolokotronis, Charles Potter, David Rotstein, Kyriakos Tsangaras, Alex Greenwood and Kristofer M. Helgen. 2014. Biogeography and taxonomy of extinct and endangered monk seals illuminated by ancient DNA and skull morphology, ZooKeys 409 (2014): 1-33. [Downloadable in various formats from Zookeys]


Extinctions and declines of large marine vertebrates have major ecological impacts and are of critical concern in marine environments. The Caribbean monk seal, Monachus tropicalis, last definitively reported in 1952, was one of the few marine mammal species to become extinct in historical times. Despite its importance for understanding the evolutionary biogeography of southern phocids, the relationships of M. tropicalis to the two living species of critically endangered monk seals have not been resolved. In this study we present the first molecular data for M. tropicalis, derived from museum skins. Phylogenetic analysis of cytochrome b sequences indicates that M. tropicalis was more closely related to the Hawaiian rather than the Mediterranean monk seal. Divergence time estimation implicates the formation of the Panamanian Isthmus in the speciation of Caribbean and Hawaiian monk seals. Molecular, morphological and temporal divergence between the Mediterranean and “New World monk seals” (Hawaiian and Caribbean) is profound, equivalent to or greater than between sister genera of phocids. As a result, we classify the Caribbean and Hawaiian monk seals together in a newly erected genus, Neomonachus. The two genera of extant monk seals (Monachus and Neomonachus) represent old evolutionary lineages each represented by a single critically endangered species, both warranting continuing and concerted conservation attention and investment if they are to avoid the fate of their Caribbean relative.

20th November, 2013

POP QUIZ: How did the Monk Seal Find its Name?


Over the years, there has been much confusion over the origins of the monk seal’s name, as well as many imaginative explanations. Here are a few to be going on with. Can you identify the correct answer? If you think you can, please post your answer below. We’ll be posting our reply about a week from now.

How did the Monk Seal Find its Name?

(1) Because the black seal with the white belly patch was reminiscent of the robes of a monastic community.

(2) Because the monk seal is shy and retiring, living a “monastic” lifestyle.

(3) Because of the folds of fat around the neck of the seal were reminiscent of a monk’s hood or scapular.

(4) Because the rows of seals stretched out lazily on the sands reminded Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder of a procession of hooded monks.

(5) None of the above.

To answer these and other historical puzzles on the Mediterranean monk seal, you may wish to read our illustrated two-volume “Monk Seal Histories”, available here in PDF format.

9th January, 2012

Aquatic Mammals special edition

Recent Publications

The Aquatic Mammals special edition on Mediterranean and Hawaiian monk seals, whose publication was announced with some excitement in September last year, has finally been made available for public purchase. As far as we can ascertain, those unlucky enough not to have institutional access or public libraries with AA subscriptions, will be paying $12 for each paper they choose to purchase. One author, Giulia Mo (listed below) has, however, asked us to inform interested readers that she will email copies of her paper free of charge to those who request it. Please contact: giulia.mo@isprambiente.it

Abstracts are available via the Aquatic Mammals 37(3): 2011 contents page.

→ Continue reading Aquatic Mammals special edition

31st August, 2011

Reflections on closed access journals

Media Watch, The Lairds of Learning, by George Monbiot, The Guardian, 29 August 2011

Editor’s Note: Despite oft-reapeated calls for monk seal conservation and science to find a wider public audience — thereby spurring efforts to save the species and its habitat — most research continues to be published in closed access “subscription-only” scientific journals with a limited circulation. In view of this issue’s importance to the survival of the Mediterranean and Hawaiian monk seal, we take this opportunity of drawing our readers’ attention to the following article, “The Lairds of Learning”.

[…] Reading a single article published by one of Elsevier’s journals will cost you $31.50(1). Springer charges Eur34.95(2), Wiley-Blackwell, $42(3). Read ten and you pay ten times. And the journals retain perpetual copyright. You want to read a letter printed in 1981? That’ll be $31.50(4).

Of course, you could go into the library (if it still exists). But they too have been hit by cosmic fees. The average cost of an annual subscription to a chemistry journal is $3,792(5). Some journals cost $10,000 a year or more to stock. The most expensive I’ve seen, Elsevier’s Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, is $20,930(6). Though academic libraries have been frantically cutting subscriptions to make ends meet, journals now consume 65% of their budgets(7), which means they have had to reduce the number of books they buy. Journal fees account for a significant component of universities’ costs, which are being passed to their students. […]

Source: The Lairds of Learning, by George Monbiot, The Guardian, 29 August 2011.

30th May, 2011

A message to our readers and contributors

The Monachus GuardianSeeking a more effective model in reporting the challenges affecting conservation of the Mediterranean and Hawaiian monk seals, we have decided to cease publication of The Monachus Guardian as a biannual journal. Perhaps inevitably in this age of cutbacks, lack of funding for the Guardian also proved a contributing factor.

After 26 issues and 13 years, we take this decision with some regret, but believe that the redesigned TMG offers advantages in reporting developments as they happen, as well as allowing publication of articles or features, editorials and letters to the editor on an intermittent basis. Please consult our submissions guidelines for further details.

As a consequence of these changes, requests for submissions and announcements of publication will no longer be sent to existing subscribers by email. Readers seeking timely alerts of newly published articles or news items are encouraged to subscribe to our RSS-feed.

As always, we would look forward to hearing your views, both on The Monachus Guardian itself and monk seal conservation in general.

Needless to say, any leads on possible funding avenues that might keep TMG alive and kicking, would be gratefully received.

— William M. Johnson (Editor) | Matthias Schnellmann (Publisher)

22nd March, 2011

Help the Guardian stay online

Support monk seal conservation. Help us stay on line. The Monachus Guardian is the only dedicated source of news and information on the world’s endangered monk seals. Its publication fulfils explicit recommendations of international conservation action plans for the species.

Since its first issue in May 1998, it has carried reports, news and opinion from over 200 contributors in 30+ countries, including 150 feature or scientific articles and over 1,000 news items. Its authors have ranged from Mediterranean fishermen to UN diplomats, government ministers to marine park managers, ecological historians to veterinarians.

If you read or make use of The Monachus Guardian, and support its objectives to bring monk seal conservation to an international readership, please consider making a financial contribution securely via PayPal to keep the journal and website online.

For comments or suggestions, including possible funding leads that might keep The Monachus Guardian alive and kicking, please contact us at info@monachus-guardian.org.

Thank you.

19th December, 2010

New books focus on the Caribbean monk seal

Two new books announced last week focus on the extinct Caribbean monk seal, Monachus tropicalis.

Caribbean Monk Seals: Lost Seals of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea by John Hairr is published by Coachwhip Publications, and includes sections on the species’ various fateful interactions with humans, from native Americans to European explorers, hunters and ‘scientific’ expeditions.

The publisher states: ‘The Caribbean monk seal was a significant and charismatic member of the tropical marine ecosystem of southern Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. Author John Hairr delves into the fascinating history of a marine mammal that met its match in man, as overhunting for meat and oil (and even scientific specimens) drove it to extinction. Hairr looks at the intersections between this seal and the various cultures it encountered over the centuries, the narratives of a playful pinniped from the few times it was kept in captivity, and the expeditions that sought out any last remaining survivors of a vanishing species.’

Paperback: 198 pages
Publisher: Coachwhip Publications (January 3, 2011)
ISBN-10: 1616460636
ISBN-13: 978-1616460631
Price: $14.95 (USD)

The second book, Remembering a Species: A History of the Caribbean Monk Seal in Captivity by Charles Epting, is published by Lulu, the publisher’s blurb stating: ‘This book chronicles the fascinating, untold story of the Caribbean Monk Seal: the only seal native to the Caribbean Sea, the only species of true seal that has gone extinct in recent times, and, perhaps most interestingly, the only species of recently extinct mammalian carnivore that was displayed in captivity. This book looks at both scientific sources and primary sources to gather what is known about this species’ life in captivity in one volume.’

Paperback: 73 pages
Publisher: Lulu  (December 4, 2010)
ISBN 978-0-557-92778-4
Price: $7.95 (paperback) | $3.95 (download PDF)

2nd May, 2010

November 2009 issue published in Spanish

Thanks to the support of the Government of the Balearic Islands, Spain, the November 2009 issue of The Monachus Guardian has now been published in Spanish.

If you have Spanish-language friends or colleagues who you think might be interested in the publication, please let them know.

The Spanish translation can be accessed at: http://www.monachus-guardian.org/spanish.