THE STELLAR’S SEA COW
The Steller’s sea cow was the largest of the sirenians (a group of marine mammals that includes Manatees and dugongs). At one time it inhabited the Pacific Rim from Japan to California. Climate change and native hunting reduced its range to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.
It was there that a Russian explorer, Captain Vitus Bering, first saw and described the Stellar’s sea cow. He and his crew had been forced to spend the winter in Alaska when their ship became stranded. The year was 1741 and the sea cow was already rare; there were perhaps 1,000 to 2,000 individuals.
Bering’s crew killed many of the remaining sea cows for their meat and hides, and subsequent expeditions to the area killed the rest. The Steller’s sea cow probably was extinct by 1768.