2000 -2001. Acrylic on canvas, 5 panels, 2000 x 8750mm, framed, signed and dated by artist.
Last Record: 1768. Distribution: Prehistorically, around the Rim of the North Pacific, from Japan to at least Monterey Bay, California; Historically, Bering and Copper Islands, Commander Group, Western Bering Sea.
With the exception of the great whales, Steller's sea cow was the biggest mammal to survive to modern times. The largest specimens, probably females, could reach over eight metres in length and weigh ten tonnes. Before about 13,000 years ago it was a common and widespread species throughout the coastal regions of the North Pacific. Hunting by Indians and other indigenous people, however, exterminated it and other ice-age giants such as mammoth from the mainland coasts. By two thousand years ago it survived only around the uninhabited Commander Islands in the Bering Sea.
A relative of the dugong, it had a thick, bark-like and uneven skin. Its forelimbs were reduced, having no hand bones. They were curiously bent and were covered on the inside with bristles. Its body was itself an island to smaller creatures such as the barnacles that crusted its sides, while certain fish and seabirds used it as a convenient resting place. Some of its inhabitants, including several species of crustaceans that burrowed deep into its skin, forcing it to ooze a thin serum, were found nowhere else.
All that we know of Steller's sea cow as a living animal comes from the writings of Georg Steller, the naturalist on the Bering Expedition. The expedition had been sent from St Petersburg to explore the far east, but was shipwrecked on the then unknown Commander Islands in 1741. When the shipwrecked expeditioners discovered the great creatures they were quite numerous in the shallow bays and inlets. Steller wrote that:
these animals live in herds together in the sea, males and females usually going with one another, pushing the offspring before them all around the shore. These animals are busy with nothing but their food. The back and half the belly are constantly seen outside the water, and they munch along just like land animals with a slow, steady movement forward. With their feet they scrape the seaweed from the rocks, and they masticate incessantly. When the tide recedes, they go from the shore ...but with the rising tide they go back again to the beach, often so close that we could reach and hit them with poles. They are not in the least afraid of human beings ...they have an extraordinary love for one another, which extends so far that when one of them was cut into, all the others were intent on rescuing it and keeping it from being pulled ashore by closing a circle around it. Others tried to overturn the yawl. Some placed themselves on the rope or tried to draw the harpoon out of its body, in which indeed they were successful several times. We also observed that a male two days in a row came to its dead female on the shore and inquired about its condition ...They play the Venus game in June ...The female flees-slowly-ahead of the male with constant detours ...But when [she] tires of this mock fight and the vain enticements, she lies on her back, and the male completes intercourse in the human way.
Winter was evidently a tough time for these giants. Steller observed that they become so emaciated that not only the ridge of their backbone but every rib showed.
The total population on the Commander Islands probably did not exceed one or two thousand individ-uals. They were hunted for food, oil and skins, and were extinct within twenty-seven years of their discovery.
Price: $35,000.00 AU