Image: Wikimedia Commons

The massive skeleton of an extinct Steller’s sea cow measuring six meters in length was discovered on Bering Island.

The last complete skeleton of a Steller’s sea cow was found thirty years ago on the same island. These giant marine mammals belong to the order Sirenia and measured up to thirty feet in length. Their closest living relative is the dugong — a sea cow that is large enough in its own right.

Naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller first discovered the species in 1741 after he shipwrecked on Bering Island. Within a quarter of a century, the Steller’s sea cow had been hunted to extinction. These animals were coveted by Europeans for their meat, fat, and hide. They possessed a thick layer of blubber that allowed them to survive in the extremely cold waters around the Commander Islands. One of their most unique features? Unlike other sirenians, the Steller’s sea cow was toothless and fed predominantly on sea kelp.

The most recent skeleton was discovered during a routine survey of the coastal line when researcher Marina Shitova noticed rib bones sticking up out of the ground like fence posts. A team of eight people spend four hours excavating the skeleton, consisting of 45 spinal bones, 27 ribs, the left shoulder blade and other parts of the extremities.

The research team intends on reassembling the skeleton for display in the Commander Island visitor’s center, according to a press release from the Commander Islands Nature and Biosphere Reserve.

The Steller sea cow’s short existence alongside man should serve as a stark reminder of how much of an impact we can have upon our ecosystem.

RELATED VIDEO: