Other Common Names: Coney Island Sea Rabbit, Beach Rabbit, Seal Rabbit, mer-rabbit
Latin Name: Monafluffchus americanus
Origin: Coney Island area of Brooklyn, New York, USA
Date: 1609 AD
Size: 33x7x8 inch (84x18x20 cm)
Description of the specimen: In the early 17th century’s European fur craze drove the fleet of Dutch ships to the eastern costal area of America. Then Holland was the center of the world just like the Italy was in the previous century. New York City was once called New Amsterdam when Dutch merchants landed and established colonies. Among them, Henry Hudson is probably the most recognized individual in the history of New York City today. “This small island is inhabited by two major creatures which we do not have in our homeland. The one creature is a large arthropod made of three body segments: the frontal segment resembles a horseshoe, the middle segment resembles a spiny crab and its tail resembles a sharp sword. Although they gather beaches here in great numbers, they are not edible due to their extremely offensive odor. Another creature which is abundant here, has the head of wild rabbit. This animal of great swimming ability has frontal legs resemble the webbed feet of a duck. The bottom half of the body resembles that of a seal. This docile rabbit of the sea is easy to catch as it does not fear people. The larger male sea rabbits control harems of 20 to 25 females. The meat of the sea rabbit is very tender and tasty.” This is what Hadson wrote in his personal journal in 1609 about the horseshoe crab and the sea rabbit in today’s Coney Island area of Brooklyn, New York. Sadly, just like the Dodo bird and the Thylacine, the sea rabbit was driven to extinction by the European settlers’ greed. When Dutch merchants and traders arrived here, sea rabbits were one of the first animals they hunted down to bring their furs to homeland to satisfy the fur craze of the time. To increase the shipment volume of furs of sea rabbit and beavers from New Amsterdam, Dutch merchants also started using wampum (beads made of special clam shells) as the first official currency of this country.
At the North Eastern shores of the United States, two species of sea rabbits were commonly found. They are Coney Island Sea Rabbit (Monafluffchus americanus) and Coney Island Tiger-striped Sea Rabbit (Monafluffchus konjinicus). Sadly, due to their over harvesting in the previous centuries, their conservation status became “Extinct in the Wild” (ET) in the Red List Endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Currently, these sea rabbits are only found at breeding centers at selected zoos and universities such as Coney Island Aquarium and Coney Island University in Brooklyn, New York. The one shown in this photograph was named "Seara" and has been cared by Dr. Takeshi Yamada at Coney Island University.
The sea rabbit is one of the families of the Pinniped order. Pinnipeds (from Latin penna = flat and pes/pedis = foot) are sea-mammals: they are homeothermic (i.e having high and regulated inner temperature), lung-breathing (i.e dependant on atmospheric oxygen) animals having come back to semi aquatic life. As soon as they arrive ashore, females are caught by the nearest adult male. Males can maintain harems of about 20 females on average. Several hours to several days after arriving ashore, pregnant females give birth to eight to ten pups with a dark brown fur. As soon as birth occurs, the mother’s special smell and calls help her pups bond specifically to her. The mother stays ashore with her pup for about one week during which the pup gains weight. During the first week spent with her newborn, the mother becomes receptive. She will be impregnated by the bull, which control the harem. Implantation of the embryo will occur 3 months later, in March-April. During the reproductive period, the best males copulate with several tens females. To do so, males have to stay ashore without feeding in order to keep their territory and their harem. In mid-January, when the last females have been fecundated, males leave at sea to feed. Some of them will come back later in March-April for the moult. The other ones will stay at sea and will come back on Coney Island only in next November. After fecundation, the mother goes at sea for her first meal. At sea, mothers feed on clams, crabs, shrimps, fish (herring, anchovy, Pollock, capelin etc.) and squids. When she is back, the mother recovers her pups at the beach she left them. Suckling occurs after auditive and olfactory recognition had occured. In March-April, the dark brown fur is totally replaced by an adult-like light brownish grey fur during the moult that lasts 1-2 months. This new fur is composed by 2 layers. Externally, the guard fur is composed by flat hairs that recover themselves when wet. By doing so, they make a water-proof barrier for the under fur. The underfur retains air when the seal is dry. Because of isolating properties of the air, the underfur is the insulating system of the fur. In March-April, the fur of adults is partially replaced. First reproduction occurs at 1-yr old in females. Males are physiologically matures at 1 year old but socially matures at +2 years old.
NOTE: The name of Coney Island is commonly thought to be derived from the Dutch Konijn Eylandt or Rabbit Island as apparently the 17th century European settlers noted many rabbits running amuck on the island.
Reference: Dr. Takeshi Yamada as “Immortalizer” of the AMC cable television competitive fine art reality show, “Immortalized”, season 1, aired in 2013: