alexa Rewriting the history of an extinction—was a population of Steller's sea cows (Hydrodamalis gigas) at St Lawrence Island also driven to extinction?
Agri and Aquaculture

Agri and Aquaculture

Journal of Marine Science: Research & Development

Author(s): Lorelei D Crerar

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The Kommandorskiye Islands population of Steller's sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas) was extirpated ca 1768 CE. Until now, Steller's sea cow was thought to be restricted in historic times to Bering and Copper Islands, Russia, with other records in the last millennium from the western Aleutian Islands. However, Steller's sea cow bone has been obtained by the authors from St Lawrence Island, Alaska, which is significantly further north. Bone identity was verified using analysis of mitochondrial DNA. The nitrogen-15 (δ15N)/carbon-13 (δ13C) values for bone samples from St Lawrence Island were significantly (p ≤ 0.05) different from Bering Island samples, indicating a second population. Bone samples were dated to between 1030 and 1150 BP (approx. 800–920 CE). The samples date from close to the beginning of the mediaeval warm period, which could indicate that the population at St Lawrence Island was driven to extinction by climate change. A warming of the climate in the area may have changed the availability of kelp; alternatively or in addition, the animals may have been driven to extinction by the expansion of the Inuit from the Bering Strait region, possibly due to opening waterways, maybe following bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus), or searching for iron and copper. This study provides evidence for a previously unknown population of sea cows in the North Pacific within the past 1000 years and a second Steller's sea cow extirpation event in recent history.

This article was published in Biology Letters and referenced in Journal of Marine Science: Research & Development

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