Steller's sea cow - Sunken flagship of the Bering Sea...
Drawing copyright © 2001 by Susanne Swibold.
The only first hand information comes from the remarkable George W. Steller. He was the naturalist, doctor, and botanist on Vitus Bering's tragic second Kamchatka expedition. He was the only scientist to see and describe the sea cow, an amazing animal that would became extinct at the hand of man just 27 years later. The sea cow belonged to the sirenian family, which includes dugongs and manatees. Its evolutionary journey took it from the warm waters off Peru to the cold waters of the Bering Sea. Through this evolution, it lost its flippers and finger bones to "arms" with no wrists. It lost its teeth to "horny plates" to crush its mono-diet of kelp, and it lost its diving capability to float on the tide by the great kelp beds close to the islands.
The sea cow's evolutionary sacrifices made it an easy target for man. The rush for marine furs started a stampede more intense than the Alaska gold rush 150 years later. Outfitters stocked up on Bering Island - one 7,223 pound, 26 foot sea cow could feed a crew of 33 men for one month at sea. The meat was delicious and would preserve for long periods of time.
Resurecting the Extinct Sea Cow
The only information about the Stellar sea cow comes from Steller's superb notes and the bones that still can be found on Commander beaches today, 225 years later.
The Nikolskoye village museum has a rare skeleton of this creature, badly in need of restoration. The AMIQ Institute assembled an international team including Dr. Daryl Domning of the Smithsonian Institution, Russian scientists and a Canadian teenager to visit the islands to restore and stabilize the skeleton. Unfortunately, proper authorization could not be obtained and the project has been delayed indefinetly.