Recently during regular monitoring of the coastal line Marina Shitova, Researcher of the Commander Islands Nature and Biosphere Reserve, found a skeleton of the extinct Steller’s sea cow.
Several ribs stuck up from a small steep like a fence. We soon realized that it is a skeleton hidden under a layer of pebbles and sand. Several days later, after the weather became better, our team organized an expedition to dig the ancient animal skeleton up.
The digging took 4 hours of work and a team of 8 people. The skeleton was on the depth of 70 centimeters. We managed to find all the present parts. After the top layer of soil was lifted, we swept off all the sand and left it to dry out. Then we marked all the bones to make the assembling of the skeleton easier in the future. It will help us memorize the layout of the bones. Moreover, we took pictures of the order of the marked bones as well. Then our specialists started wrapping the bones. Every 4 or 5 ribs were put in a bag and taped around with duct tape. The spinal bones were packed the same way. Such wrapping prevents the bones from friction while transported.
The skeleton we found had 45 spinal bones, 27 ribs, left shoulder blade, shoulder and forearm bones and several wrist bones. There was no skull, cervical spine, 1-2 dorsal vertebrae, several caudal vertebrae, right part of pectoral arch, metacarpus and phalangeal bones of the left limb. The total length of the skeleton is 5.2 meters. Taking into account the length of the absent part of the spine and the head we can assume that the animal was about 6 meters long.
To find such a full skeleton of the Steller’s sea cow is an extremely important event for the global science and fro the Commander Islands Reserve. In fact there are relatively many skeletons of the sea cow exhibited in different museums of the world. Some of the skeletons are full, some are assembled from bones of different individuals. As a rule all the full skeletons were found in the XIXth century. The last full skeleton of this animal was found on Bering Island in 1987 and was about 3 meters long. Some parts of this skeleton are exhibited in Aleut History Museum in Nikolskoye Village on Bering Island.
The osteologic collection of the reserve did not have any sea cow skeletons up till today. We are working on visit-center in the administrative building of the reserve, situated in Nikolskoye Village on Bering Island, and plan to create an exposition to tell people about the nature of the Commander Islands and the history of nature use. Steller’s sea cow became the first sacrifice of use of natural resources on the islands. The skeleton we found near the coast will become one of the central parts of the display in the upcoming visit-center of the Commander Islands Reserve.
By the way.
Steller’s sea cow was an endemic species when the Commander Islands were discovered in 1741 and lived only here. It was a big animal, up to 7 meters long, according to some sources, even 10 meters long and weighted over 5 tons. It grazed in the coastal areas and ate alaria and laminaria sea kelp. The closest relative of the animal, which exists today, is dugong. The only researcher, who saw the animal with his own eyes and described it, was George Steller. In fact, the animal was named after him. Steller’s sea cow disappeared 27 years after the discovery of the animal. Bones of sea cows are found regularly on the Commander Islands.