|“||These large, rotund animals traveled in herds of males, females, and juveniles, and were said to be gregarious and, for their sake, far too friendly to humans.||”|
In 1741, a population of a thousand or so survivors was studied by the early naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, who remarked on this megafauna mammal's tame disposition, undersized head perched on an oversized body, and exclusive diet of kelp.
The Sea Cows' friendliness was their undoing- they saw something in humans that was worth exploring more closely, and suffered for it. Within 27 years of discovery by humans, the slow-moving and easily-captured Steller's Sea Cow was hunted to extinction. The last Steller’s Sea Cow supposedly died on one of the Bering Islands in 1768.
Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans was one of the first to recognize the fact that Steller’s Sea Cow may not be extinct. More recently mainstream scientists, such as marine biologists Bret Weinstein and James Patton of the University of California have noted that there are vague reports of Steller’s Sea Cows from along the northwest coast of North America and the northeast coast of Asia, in the Arctic Ocean and Greenland.
If such reports are not discounted, then Hydramalis gigas stelleri, or a subspecies, may still be alive today.
Sea Cows were large herbivores that had a seal-like appearance with a tail which resembled that of a whale. The 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 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 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 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.
Sea Cows were very social animals. They 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 Sea Cow would have given birth to a single calf after a gestation period that probably lasted well over a year.
Residents of Bering Island claimed that Sea Cows were still being killed and eaten in the area in the late 1770s.
A Polish naturalist was certain that Sea Cows had survived on Bering Island as late as 1830 and native reports of the animal were recorded there and in the Aleutian Islands in the mid-19th century.
A Steller’s Sea Cow allegedly washed up on the shores of Cape Chaplin, on the northern end of the Gulf of Anadyr, Siberia, in 1910. In the middle of the century, a harpooner reported regularly seeing 32-foot, finless animals not far from Bering Island in July of every year.
The crew of a Russian whaler observed a group of what appear to be Sea Cows in 1962
Russian fisherman walked up to—and touched—a live Sea Cow at Anapkinskaya Bay in the summer of 1976, though this has been speculated to have been a stray Northern elephant seal.
A Sea Cow skeleton was supposedly found on a Soviet island in 1983.
In the summer of 2006, a fisherman claimed to have seen a very large manatee off the coast of Washington:
- "There have some unusual sightings and catches along the Washington Coast this summer, but none more bizarre than the sighting of a manatee. While trolling for tuna on a course parallel to the Big Dipper, at about 40 miles off the coast, I received a radio call from a skipper of another charter boat. The skipper, for whom I have great respect as a fisherman and a straight shooter, wishes to remain anonymous for fear of being put in a straight-jacket and sent to a loony bin.
- He said, “Did you see that? It was a manatee. It was bigger than a sea lion and about 12 feet long. At first I did not know what it was, but we cruised closer to it and I looked it straight in the eye. I then knew exactly what it was, it stayed on the surface for about two minutes, unafraid and then slipped off into the deep. When my brother, who was also on the charter boat, and I got home, we immediately got on the computer and pulled up a picture of a manatee and it was the same mammal that we had seen that afternoon. I will remember it to my dying day for what it was – a manatee.”