The Grim History of Humans' Overhunting that Wiped Out Giant Sea Cows

Khryss | Published 2017-11-29 17:13

A story from the massive skeleton unearthed beneath Siberian beach.

Just this month, there was a rare find of an extinct megafauna's skeleton; and to the researchers' happiness, it's on near completeness!

It was spotted by the Russian researcher Marina Shitova in an ecological sanctuary, Komandorsky Nature Reserve, which is actually proposed to be included on the World Heritage List. She was initially studying about Komandorsky’s northern fur seals but the enormous rib cage protruding through the soil caught her attention, of which she later on found was a Steller’s sea cow.

The skeleton is so massive that eight people had to work together in digging it out for over four hours. When retrieved, such creature already measured 17 feet, from end to end, even without its skull and several vertebrae!

Steller’s sea cows (Hydrodamalis gigas) were once happily living in the arctic waters of Russia’s Commander Islands, a group of 17 desolated islands and islets in the Bering Sea since the Pleistocene (about 2.6 million years ago). They can grow up to 25 feet, weighing between eight and ten tons. Meaning, aside from cetaceans, these may have been largest mammal of the Holocene (about 11,700 years ago).

With their generous blubber and a thick skin, they were able to withstand freezing temperatures, mostly feeding on kelp as they live in social family groups. And while gigantic, these are gentle creatures and are monogamous said the naturalists who observed them.

They were even said to mourn when their kind died as described by an explorer in 1751:

“It is a very curious evidence of their nature and of their conjugal affection that when a female was caught the male, after trying with all his strength, but in vain, to free his captured mate, would follow her quite to the shore, even though we struck him many blows, and that when she was dead he would sometimes come up to her as unexpectedly and as swiftly as an arrow. When we came the next day, early in the morning, to cut up the flesh and take it home, we found the male still waiting near his mate…”

Unfortunately, these gentle giants became extinct by 1768 due to humans' overhunting as its high-quality meat and cover were in high demand. Now, you can see its only fully intact specimen (as claimed) in the Finnish Museum of Natural History in Helsinki.

Now, perhaps it won't be too long before other species get to have the same fate. I hope not, though.

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