Conservation status

The main factor leading to extinction, endangered, or threatened status of phocids has been hunting pressures from humans within the past century or two. More recently, the Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi), which was showing signs of coming back in the mid-1900s, was probably disturbed by military operations on the small islands used for breeding and molting, and produced poor recruitment into the breeding population. Subsequently, signs of environmental regime shifts that have caused a change in carrying capacity may be inhibiting the return of this species. It is currently listed as Endangered. Likewise the Mediterranean monk seal is Critically Endangered, and continuing to decline to near extinction (fewer than 500 seals remaining) despite protection, because of degradation in its environment. Recent disease problems producing mass die-offs can probably be attributed to the poor state of the environment. One species has gone extinct in the past 100 years, the West Indian monk seal (Monachus tropicalis). It is the cousin to the other two monk seals. The cause of this extinction was likely hunting pressure. Additionally, the Caspian seal is listed as Vulnerable, and the Baikal seal is listed as Lower Risk/Near Threatened by the IUCN.

Northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) bulls sparring. (Photo by Tom & Pat Leeson/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)
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