Maria Shitova initially thought that she saw part of a man-made fence protruding out of the sands of a beach in Russia. After excavating the site at the Komandorsky Nature Reserve in Russia's Commander Islands, though, she and her colleagues found that these were actually the nearly complete skeleton of a massive extinct animal, the Steller's sea cow.
Remains Of Massive Extinct Animal
Shitova and her team had dug the 17-foot-long remains of the now-extinct creature. The specimen does not have a skull and several bones, but researchers found it having 27 ribs, 45 vertebrae, and a left scapula. Nature reserve officials said that the skeleton will be displayed at the visitor center.
Steller's Sea Cow
Steller's sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas) used to flourish in the Arctic waters of Commander Islands. They used to be one of the biggest mammals in the Holocene period along with the cetaceans, but they were hunted to extinction in 1768, just 27 years after they were discovered.
The creatures were described to have black and thick skin similar to the bark of an old oak. Their head was small, relative to their body size.
Able To Feed 33 People In One Month
The animals did not have teeth to fight back, so when word about how they were an easy prey in the Bering sea got out, fishermen flocked to the Siberian shores.
Steller's sea cows were large enough one could reportedly feed 33 people for a whole month. The taste of their flesh had been likened to that of almonds, which drove demand for their meat. Mariners eventually overhunted the creatures out of existence.
The sea cows had a gestation period of more than a year, and this likely contributed to their extinction because they were hunted far faster than they could reproduce.
Rare To Find Skeletons Of Steller's Sea Cow
It is rare to find skeletons of the Steller's sea cow, and most specimens displayed in museums worldwide are composite skeletons, which means they were the strung-together remains of various individuals. The Finnish Museum of Natural History in Helsinki, Finland, is currently the only known place with an intact sea cow skeleton.
"This is the only sea cow that we've ever found that's intact in situ," said Lorelei Crerar, from George Mason University who has published a study on sea cows. "All we've got is just this one record of this animal and that's it."