Other Common Names: Beach Rabbit, Seal Rabbit, Rabbit Fish

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: This excellently well-preserved specimen of the Sea Rabbit was obtained from the Coney Island Taxidermy Shoppe. This renowned shop, which also hosted a taxidermy museum was one of the establishments lost during the Dreamland Fire of Coney Island in 1911.

 

In the early 17th century’s European fur craze drove the fleet of Dutch ships to the eastern coastal area of America. At that time, 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, an Englishman employed by the Dutch, is probably the most recognized individual in the history of New York City today. Needless to say, the Hudson River is named after him.

 

“This small island is inhabited by two major creatures which we do not have in our homeland. 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 on beaches here in great numbers, they are not edible due to their extremely offensive odor; only natives eat them. 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 Hudson 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 shipment of the number of furs of the 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.

           

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. The sea rabbit (Monafluffchus americanus) is a social animal that once lived at northeastern shore of North America. These hares often congregate in groups of up to 200 individuals. They do not hop but run at great speeds in a seal-like fashion. The female is called a doe, the male is called a buck, and the baby hare is called a leveret. The young are born open-eyed and furry. Most of them live for about three years in the wild. They are hunted by dogs, foxes, raccoons, weasels, bobcats, lynxes, hawks, and eagles. They have a fast reproductive rate. Sea rabbits are roughly 33 inches (84 cm) long; the tail is 2 inches (5 cm) long. These hares weigh about 18 pounds (5.5 kg). They have relatively short ears (which minimizes their heat loss during long months at shores of New York). In the extreme north, sea rabbits stay white almost all year. When the snow melts, their furs change to a gray-brown color. Sea rabbits are herbivores (plant-eaters). They swim very well and could stay under the water up to an hour. They eat variety of sea weeds (especially during the winter), willow leaves, bark, shoots, tree leaves, grasses, and herbs.

 

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.

 

(C) Takeshi Yamada, Museum of World Wonders, revised in 2006

                                     Special thanks to Diane M. Taros

 


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