Extinct Animals Steller's Sea Cow Part 1

About the now extinct animal species Steller's Sea Cow, history, physical description, location and how the species died out.

ANIMALS GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

Steller's Sea Cow

Physical Description: Resembling huge seals, these slow-moving giants measured 30 ft. from their whiskered noses to their flat tails and weighed an estimated 4 tons. Although they lived in the water, sea cows were warm-blooded mammals like whales. Their wrinkled, warty, blackish-brown skin was an inch thick. The sluggish sea cows could not dive; they supported themselves in shallow water on small forearms which looked like paddles but were bent under so that the animals rested on their "knuckles."

Where and How They Lived: Sea cows lived in herds of 10 to 20 just off Bering Island in the Bering Sea, where their days were spent placidly browsing on kelp. To avoid being beached during low tide, the herds would move out to sea, but they floated back close to shore during high tide. The animals mated in June, and the young were carefully tended by the adults.

How and When Destroyed: German physician-naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller first saw the animal that would bear his name in 1741, when he took part in a Russian voyage of discovery led by Commander Vitus Bering. Their ship, the St. Peter, was shipwrecked on its way back to Siberia when it struck a submerged reef off the shore of an unknown island, which later was named for the expedition's leader. There the sick, starving men spent a cold winter. Thirty-two of them, including Bering, died, but the rest were nursed back to health by Steller, who fed them on sea otter and spectacled cormorant (a bird that is now extinct). When the otters moved out to sea in the spring, the remnants of the crew found seal and sea lion meat unpalatable. In May, 1742, their first attempt to haul in a sea cow with a huge iron hook failed because the animal's skin was too thick. A month later, after the ship's yawl had been repaired, some of the sailors set out in the boat with a harpoon. Steller described the hunt: "As soon as the harpooner had struck one of them the men on the shore gradually pulled it toward the beach; the men in the yawl rushed upon it and by their commotion tired it out further; when it seemed enfeebled they jabbed large knives and bayonets into its body until it had lost almost all its blood, which spurted from the wounds as from a fountain, and could thus be hauled on the beach at high tide and made fast."

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