The case of the steller cow
Fifteen years ago, we began to arrive in the magazine "Around the World" wonderful message from the Far East. As if people saw in different places along the coast - on the Kamchatka Peninsula, the Commander Islands, and in other areas - Steller's sea cow. Yes, the very unfortunate marine giants that fell victim to the irrepressible appetites of the fishermen in the second half of the XVIII century. In fact, this topic in the official zoological science is considered "closed" and irritates scientists. The negative attitude to such observations expressed zoologists VE Sokolov, VG Geptner, SK Klum and others. The author of one of the posts related to the 1966 and published in the newspaper "Kamchatsky Komsomolets", simply ridiculed. It was about the mysterious dark-skinned animals, seen in shallow water with the ship at Cape Navarino, north-east of Kamchatka.
And once again received a letter ... Meteorologist VY Koev reported that he had accumulated a lot of interesting and, I must say, accurate information about the nature of Kamchatka, the various phenomena of unknown. But here we are now interested in these lines:
"I can say that in the area of Cape Lopatka saw Steller's sea cow in August 1976. What allows me to make such a statement? Whales, killer whales, seals, sea lions, seals, sea otters and walruses have seen repeatedly. The same animal is not similar to any of the foregoing. The length of about five meters. It swam in shallow water very slowly. However it rolls like waves. First, there is the head of a typical build-up, followed by a massive body and then the tail. Yes, that caught my attention (by the way, there is a witness). Because when so floating seal or walrus, hind legs they pressed against each other, and it is clear that this fin, while this was like a whale's tail. The impression is that it comes up every time belly up, slowly rolling the body. And I put a tail like a whale "butterflies" when the whale goes into depth ... "
I foresee angry cries of scientists: "How much can revive the long and firmly disappeared from the face of the earth animal!", "You never know what dreamed man!" But let us still wait for a definitive findings, but instead go back to the very memorable in 1741, with which began this amazing and tragic story *.
On Tuesday, June 4, 1741, the packet-boat "Saint Peter" set sail in the harbor of Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula. The vessel, which sailed under the Russian flag, commanded by Vitus Bering, and the purpose of the study was swimming most northern edge of the Pacific Ocean. First of all, it was necessary to find out whether there is a land connection between Siberia and America. Commander himself, and almost half of its crew never returned to the Russian land.
On board the "St. Peter" among his crew, consisting of seventy-eight, and there was a German physician and naturalist Georg Wilhelm Stapler. Behring asked him to join the expedition at the last moment, when the ship suddenly ill surgeon Caspar Feige.
The first part of the trip was a success. Behring successfully landed on the west coast of Alaska. Stapler is the first naturalist to set foot on this unknown land.
But then there was a tragedy. When the ship has turned back home, I broke out among the crew of scurvy, the worst enemy of the first polar explorers. November 4th the distance in the fog loomed a tall, inhospitable coast, and sailors initially delighted, believing it to the mainland. But after observing the position of the sun all realized that they were still at a distance of hundreds of miles from Kamchatka, and the joy of the crew immediately gave way to despair. the whole team was convened, and since there were only six flasks bad water, it was decided unanimously to go on the coast of the island, which now bears the name of Vitus Bering. But by this time it was not in the carriage sufficiently strong people who could stay on board. Decided to all leave the ship. Patients were placed in hastily constructed huts and dugouts, dug in the sand, and a week later, "Saint Peter" broke anchor was thrown north-east storm ashore and nearly collapsed.
In these dramatic circumstances Stapler and discovered the animal, which will be the protagonist in this story.
In the water at high tide, he noticed several huge humpback carcasses that looked like inverted upside down boat. A few days later, when he had a better look at these creatures, he understood that they belong to a not previously described species; They were animals, is now known to science under the name Steller's sea cow.
"If I'd asked how many I've seen them on Bering Island, I would not be quick to respond - they can not be counted, they are innumerable ..." - Stapler wrote.
North sea cow was a relative of the manatee and dugong. But compared with them, it was a giant and weighed about three and a half tons. But in comparison with the massive trunk head she was surprisingly small, very mobile lips, and the top was covered with a noticeable layer of white bristles, which can be compared with the plumage of chickens on density. She moved along the shallows with two stumps, resembling paws at the front of the torso; but in the ocean of the animal it pushed itself forward vertical strokes on the water of a large swallowtail. Her skin was not different smoothness, like a manatee or dugong, and on it stood out numerous furrows and wrinkles; hence the name «Rythina stelleni», which literally means "wrinkled Steller."
"Stapler was the only naturalist, kind of living creature, who had the opportunity to observe it in nature and examine its structure," - writes Leonhard Shtayneger.
Habitats it limited the islands, which are now known to us as a group Commander Islands, particularly the island of copper, and a larger size Bering Island, located to the west of it. A special surprise is the fact that these animals have been found in these cold waters, although, as we know, the only ones of their relatives live only in warm tropical seas. But strong, like bark, skin of cows, undoubtedly helped her to keep warm from the cold, and it protected the thick layer of fat. Perhaps they never went far from the shore, so they could not dive deep in search of food, also in the open sea, they became easy prey for killer whales. They were absolute vegetarians, feed on algae that grow in the northern part of the Pacific Ocean in great abundance.
In spite of his helplessness, harmless animal initially not been attacked by the sailors from the "Saint Peter". This can hardly be explained some sentimentality. Rather, the fact that for so long miners spared these animals, can be explained by their physical weakness caused by scurvy; In addition, more convenient and accessible source of food consisted of sea otters and sea otters, which could get in any amount for which it was necessary only to go down to the bank of th hit them over the head with a truncheon. But as people's health has improved, and sea otters began to exercise great caution in dealing with them, it was taken quite a few successful attempts to diversify the menu of succulent steaks from sea cows and sea-calf.
"We caught them - recalled Stapler - using a large iron hook, the tip of which resembled the anchor leg; the other end we have attached to an iron ring in a very long and strong rope that is dragged to the shore thirty people. A stronger sailor took it hook, along with four or five assistants, loaded him into the boat, one of them sat behind the wheel, and the rest on the oars, and, observing silence, went to the herd. Harpooner standing on the stern of the boat, lifting hook above his head, and immediately dealt a blow as soon as the boat was coming closer to the herd. After that, the people left on the shore, were taken to pull the rope and drag aggressively to shore desperately resisted animal. People in a boat, meanwhile, spurred the animal with another rope and afflict them with their constant attacks, as long as it is, from exhaustion and completely immobile, can not be removed to the shore, where it is already loaded bayonet blows, knives and other tools. Huge chunks cut from the live "cow", and she resisted, with such force beat on the ground and tail fins from the body that even fall off pieces of skin. In addition, she was panting like a sigh. From the wounds inflicted in the back of the torso, the blood was flowing stream. When a wounded animal is under water, not blood flowed, but when he put out his head to catch a breath of air, as the blood flow resumed unabated ... "
Despite the feeling of pity, which is the story, you can not blame these poor people that they are prepared in such a way himself juicy steaks, which were the reward for their superhuman efforts. They used sea cows to eat only a few weeks - before they went to the newly built "Saint Peter" to his homeland. It is doubtful that they have played a big role in their destruction. But then began the events that can hardly be something to justify ...
When victims fail sailors returned to Kamchatka, then brought about eight skins of sea otters. It was a very expensive commodity, and soon began to spread rumors that the Commander Islands are found in abundance fur-bearing animals. Copper and Bering Islands became the headquarters of the fur traders, and for lovers of statistics can be reported that the mass slaughter in a few years in this area, conducted by the way, only three hunters killed 11,000 thousand foxes and otters. The skin of sea cow is not very appreciated. But hunters and sailors who appear in these places,
needed fresh meat and extract it was easy. Not surprisingly, the ensuing mass culling led to the complete disappearance of the slow-moving, hardly understands, but completely harmless animals.
Last sea cow, as is commonly believed, was killed on Bering Island in 1786, just 27 years after the discovery of this species. However, in 1879 the Swedish Professor A. Nordenskjold collected evidence showing that the animal probably survived to a much later period than is usually thought. According to some reports, a long time, people continued to kill manatees when they are about anything without thinking, peacefully grazing in the meadows of algae. Their skins were used for the construction of light boats - such as "Scythians". And two Russian-Aleut Creole argued that on the coast of Bering Island in 1834 has seen the skinny animal with a cone-shaped torso, small forelimbs that mouth breathing and had no hind flippers. All these observers were familiar with the sea otters, seals and walruses, as well as with other local animals, which they could not confuse anyone. It is likely that the "cow" existed in the area and one hundred years later. Or maybe it was a female narwhal? Who knows…
Is there any hope? According to zoologists, we repeat, not the slightest. A cryptozoologists believe - there. Discovery of unknown animals are still ongoing in the world, and the old, "buried" already kind of happens to reopen. For example, kehou - Bermuda petrel, or flightless bird Tuckahoe New Zealand ... But Steller's sea cow still not a needle in a haystack. What if we imagine this: several pairs skits managed to escape from the voracious hunters distant quiet bays and survive the carnage ... The persecution began to wane?. About cows forgotten. The herd grew, settled along the coast, choosing the most remote, neglected corners ...
God, if it was really so!