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Extinct relative helps to reclassify the world's remaining 2 species of monk seal
Date:5/14/2014

animals," said Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. "This study is exciting because it gives us a clearer view of their evolution and provides us with new context that highlights the importance of conserving these remarkable and endangered seals."

The team's analysis determined that the molecular and morphological differences between the Mediterranean species and the two New World species (Caribbean and Hawaiian) were profound. This led them to classify the Caribbean and Hawaiian monk seals in a newly named genus, Neomonachus. This remarkable discovery is the first time in more than 140 years that a new genus has been recognized amongst modern pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walruses).

"We occasionally identify new species of larger mammals, like the olinguito we announced last year," said Graham Slater, co-author and Peter Buck Post Doctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian. "But to be able to name a new genus, and a seal genus at that, is incredibly rare and a great honor."

Monk seals, as a group, are unusual among seals in being adapted for life in warm water. With the Caribbean species now extinct, the Hawaiian monk seal is the last surviving species of the genus Neomonachus, as the Mediterranean species is in its genus, Monachus. Both species are listed as "critically endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. With about 1,200 Hawaiian but less than 600 Mediterranean monk seals left, they are some of the rarest mammals on Earth.


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Contact: John Gibbons
gibbonsjp@si.edu
202-633-5187
Pensoft Publishers
Source:Eurekalert  

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