A team of Russian researchers found the remains of a gargantuan sea mammal that is now extinct. The team was excavating a site near the country’s eastern coastline in a remote region in the Komandorsky Nature Reserve in Kamchatka, Russia.
The Natural Resources Ministry of Russia released a statement Friday stating that the bones were in excellent condition and were intact. This species known as the Steller’s sea cow died out in the 18th century.
The release said that the discovery was made near the Commander Islands in the Bering Sea. A study of the bones showed that the specimen was six meters in length. The research paper, released in journal Biology Letters, said the remain of the giant beast wee very well preserved. The team counted 45 vertebrae, 27 ribs, a left scapula and other bones that were preserved very well by the beach sand it was buried in . It was estimated to weigh about 10 tonnes.
The Steller’s sea cow was first discovered in 1741 by explorers that ventured into parts of the Arctic Circle. When they were first recorded, the Steller’s sea cow was said to be living in abundance in the North Pacific, however in less than 20 years of human contact, the Steller’s sea cow had disappeared from the ocean completely.
Steller’s sea cows were large herbivores that had a seal-like appearance with a tail which resembled that of a whale. The Steller’s sea cow was named after George Steller who discovered the animal and who described it: “The animal never comes out on shore, but always lives in the water. Its skin is black and thick, like the bark of an old oak, its head in proportion to the body is small, it has no teeth, but only two flat white bones one above, the other below”.
The Steller’s sea cow was said to be a tame animal that spend most of it’s time concerning itself with munching on kelp, which is possibly what made it so vulnerable later on. However, the Steller’s sea cow was also said to be unable to submerge it’s enormous body fully underwater making it an easy spot for human hunters.
The Steller’s sea cow was a herbivorous animal that would have had a very similar diet to the dugong and manatees still extant today. This toothless animal would have spent the majority of its time grazing on kelp, sea weed and other aquatic grasses that grow in the shallows of the oceans.
Before being discovered by humans, the Steller’s sea cow would have had very few predators within it’s watery world. Large shark species would have been the only predators able to tackle such an enormous meal, but non were more successful at hunting this enormous sea cow than humans who wiped out the entire species in just 17 years.
The Steller’s sea cow would have mated and given birth to it’s calf in the water (as these marine mammals do not go onto the land). In much the same way as it’s smaller cousins, the female Steller’s sea cow would have given birth to a single calf after a gestation period that probably lasted well over a year. The sea cow calf would of remained with it’s mother until it was strong enough to become independent.
Maria Shitova, the researcher who first spotted the fossil said that the findings would be displayed on the islands after they’re completely analyzed. Scientists are yet to do an age estimation of dating on this sample. But, the team feel that it is not very ancient after seeing how well conserved the bones are.
The British Journal Editors and Wire Services