Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Stellers Sea Cow - Facts and Figures

Stellers Sea Cow - Facts and Figures Name: Stellers Sea Cow; also known as Hydrodamalis Habitat: Shores of the northern Pacific Historical Epoch: Pleistocene-Modern (2 million-200 years ago) Size and Weight: About 25-30 feet long and 8-10 tons Diet: Seaweed Distinguishing Characteristics: Enormous size; small, flexible head About Stellers Sea Cow Although its much less well known than the Dodo Bird or the Giant Moa, Stellers Sea Cow (genus name Hydrodamalis) shared the unfortunate fate of these famous birds. Widespread across the northern Pacific Ocean for hundreds of thousands of years, by the mid-18th century this giant, 10-ton ancestor of modern dugongs and manatees was restricted to the obscure Commander Islands. There, in 1741, a population of a thousand or so survivors was studied by the early naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, who remarked on this megafauna mammals tame disposition, undersized head perched on an oversized body, and exclusive diet of kelp (a type of seaweed). You can probably guess what happened next. As soon as word of Stellers Sea Cow got out, various sailors, hunters and traders made it a point to stop over at the Commander Islands and bag themselves a few of these gentle beasts, which were valued for their fur, their meat, and most of all their whale-like oil, which could be used to fuel lamps. Within three decades, Stellers Sea Cow had breathed its last; fortunately, though, Steller himself bequeathed his studies of live specimens on future generations of paleontologists. (Its important to realize that Stellers Sea Cow had been on the decline for tens of thousands of years before Europeans arrived on the scene; according to one theory, early human settlers of the Pacific Basin overhunted sea otters, thus allowing the unchecked proliferation of sea urchins, which feasted on the same kelp as Hydrodamalis!) By the way, it may yet be possible for scientists to resurrect Stellers Sea Cow by harvesting scraps of its fossil DNA, under a controversial research program known as de-extinction.

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