"They sequenced a Stellar's Seacow last week"
Stellar Seacow
Public DomainStellar's Seacow - Credit: Sven Larsson Waxell

The Stellar's Seacow is the only cold water member of the order Sirenia which includes Dugongs and Manatees. They are marine mammals that feed on algae, sea grass and kelp. The Seacow was first described in 1741 and named for Georg Wilhelm Stellar. He was the chief naturalist on Vitus Bering’s expedition to what is now known as the Bering Strait. Their ship, St Peter, was wrecked in November 1741 and the survivors spent months on what is now known as Bering Island. They escaped in August 1742 having managed to build a boat from the wreck of St Peter.


Creative Commons AttributionManatee - Credit: Chris Muenzer

When the survivors returned to Russia they described the meat of the Seacow as being similar to veal and the fat as tasting like sweet almond oil. The oil was also used for lamps because it stayed fresh for longer than alternatives and didn’t produce smoke when burnt.  Hunters flocked to the area and the Seacow was an easy target, being almost completely without defences and quite tame. Less than 30 years later, the Seacow was essentially extinct. There have since been rumours of sightings, but they are unsubstantiated. The nearest relatives of the Stellar’s Seacow, the Dugongs and Manatees, are classified as vulnerable to extinction.