georg wilhelm steller

Entry 17: Stellar’s Sea Cow (Hydrodamalis gigas)

The largest of the order Sirenia, Stellar’s Sea Cow was one of the largest mammals that was not a whale to have made it to the modern era.  Weighing in at an estimated eight to ten tons and growing to eight to nine metres (26 to 30 ft), this peaceful giant lumbered around the North Pacific Coast to reach as far south as Japan and California.

By the time Europeans arrived in 1741 and the creature was described by Georg Wilhelm Steller,  their numbers were isolated to the uninhabited Commander Islands.  They fed on kelp and were marked as ‘completely tame’.  This gentle nature subjected them to hunting by Attu and other aboriginal people for their meat, skins (which were used for ship building), and their subcutaneous fat which produced both a smokeless oil and a butter substitute. The aboriginal hunt of sea otters, which increased the amount of sea urchins feeding on the Stellar’s Sea Cow’s diet of kelp, likely helped to reduce their numbers to about 1,500 by he time Europeans arrived.

The pressure of these newly arrived sailors and fur traders wiped them out within 20 years of their identification by Westerners.

Extinction Date According to the IUCN Red List: 1768

Daily Monster 96: Steller’s Sea-Ape

Region of origin: Alaska, United States

Originally sighted by famed zoologist Georg Wilhelm Steller, he described a large furry animal with no visible forelimbs off the shores of the Shumagin Islands. Others have since claimed to have seen it, but it is often written off as a misidentified seal.

Steller’s Eider (Polysticta stelleri)

…a species of sea duck (Merginae) which breeds along the Arctic coasts of eastern Siberia and Alaska and winters somewhat farther south in the Bering Sea, northern Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea. Like other members of its subfamily Steller’s Eider is a diving specialist, diving considerable depths to feed on crustaceans and molluscs. 

As you might have guessed both the common and species name of P. stelleri commemorates Georg Wilhelm Steller. 

Classification

Animalia-Chordata-Aves-Anseriformes-Anatidae-Merginae-Polysticta-P. stelleri

Image: Ron Knight