Sea minks are a species that has become extinct in recent times. They were close relatives to American minks and lived on the coast of the Atlantic. The last known sea mink was taken from an island in the Gulf of Maine in 1880, the year attributed to being its last year of existence. Little is known about this species as it was exterminated from its native range before any scientists could analyze it. It was almost fifty percent bigger than its closest relatives. Their body was flatter in comparison to the American mink. Their tail was long and bushy and they had a coarser reddish-brown coat. The females were shorter than the males. Their lifespan was not known. The American mink, a close relative, lives on average for 6 years in the wild, 10 years in captivity.
The Sea mink’s exact range is debated, but general agreement is that it occupied an area along North America’s Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia, and possibly including Newfoundland. They were not a true marine species but were semi-aquatic animals, preferring to live in coastal environments, mainly rocky coasts or offshore islands. This gave them easy access to food and provided shelter from predators.
Habits and lifestyle
No information is available about the general behavior of this species. However, they were known to be solitary and territorial. Males were aggressive towards each other, especially during the mating season or during any territorial disputes. They would mark territory along a shoreline with specific scents. If trespassing took place, violent interactions would occur. Despite minks probably having poor underwater eyesight, it would have spent much time in the ocean, hunting for its preferred prey.
Diet and nutrition
The Sea minks were carnivores (piscivores), they ate fish, seabirds, probably the Labrador duck, as well as seabird eggs, marine invertebrates, and some insects.
Both males and females exhibited polygynandrous (promiscuous) mating behavior, often mating with multiple partners, particularly during late spring, being April to May. After gestation of about 34 days, the blind, hairless, helpless young were born, although gestation could last for up to 70 days if delayed implantation occurred. Litters were five to ten and stayed with their mother until 13 or 14 weeks old; however, the steps to independence and establishing a territory was usually beset with dangers and a high level of mortality.
The Sea mink was hunted until it became extinct, due to unregulated removal and killing for an expanding European fur trade. Before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans were capturing these animals and using their pelts and most likely their meat, although their level of hunting was less intensive and would not have depleted numbers to the level where it was unsustainable. Low numbers of surviving young would have contributed to the sea mink’s inability to survive pressure from the fur trade. Much could be learnt from this species’ extinction, most important being the need for strictly regulating the numbers of individuals harvested from a population.
Sea minks are classified as Extinct (EX), according to the IUCN Red List.
Fun facts for kids
- A great debate has arisen about whether the Sea mink is a separate species or a subspecies of American mink. The Sea mink is often given the name ‘neovison vison macrodon’ by people who believe that sea minks are a subspecies of the American mink. However, then new research suggested that this is a unique species
- Minks are found on many farms throughout the world. They are raised for their luxurious fur.
- Minks’ webbed feet and fur are covered with an oily substance which prevents their skin from being soaked. This type of fur and feet represent adaptation to life in the water.
- Minks produce a smelly substance used for self-defense and territorial markings.
- Minks live in dens that are made of tree roots, stones, leaves and branches. Dens usually are located near water and have several entrances. Minks will use the abandoned burrows of muskrats or beavers.
- The Sea mink is one of the most aquatic among the mustelids, excluding only otters.