Many times, when we hear of the extinction of a species, it is normally attributed to some human activity that directly or indirectly would have generated the conditions for that species to drastically decrease its population until finally disappearing.
The same was believed of Steller’s sea cow. A kind of sirenian that became completely extinct by the middle of the 18th century just 27 years after its discovery.
Back in 1741, doctor Georg Wilhelm Steller took part in an expedition called Vitus Bering set out from Russia to explore the Beringia region. The boats saw near the shores of the Kamchatka Peninsula a gigantic animal that was later described for the first time by Steller and that was called a Sea Cow. His description of the animal encouraged many hunters who after a few years managed to completely wipe out all the remaining specimens of the species.
After decades of study, scientists came to understand that the population of sea cows discovered in the 18th century was the last trace of a species already reduced and doomed to extinction. It was even believed that the cause of this reduction in population had also been human but much older. Due to the direct hunt of the animal and of sea otters made by the Paleolithic humans who inhabited the Beringia area 20,000 years ago.
But now, studies show that the doom of this incredible animal could have started long before its first interaction with those humans of the Paleolithic and that its decline seems to have been caused by the climatic changes of the last ice ages that affected the planet.
Sea levels, temperature, and the disappearance of kelp forests could have caused the decline in the population of this species
“This marine mammal was likely the victim of significant climate changes during the Pleistocene and associated biodiversity and environmental changes. Due to various morphological traits, Steller’s sea cows could not dive deep, so when the sea retreated and the temperature dropped, the number of suitable feeding sites for the animals decreased,” read the study.
The population found by the Vitus Bering was only the last surviving stronghold of a species that was already on its way to extinction from non-human causes.
Although we do not have direct responsibility for the disappearance of this species, this study shows us how fragile life is on our planet and how any change, no matter how small it may seem, will definitely affect it.