Last Russian Sirena

A new exhibition at the main building of the Museum of the World Ocean is devoted to a sea mammal that can be considered one of the most intriguing symbols of 2021. These are the Serenia. The Ancient Greek mythology features demonic creatures whose upper part is female and the lower – avian. Their singing is charming but their appearance is deceptive. In zoology the Sirenia are an order of fully aquatic, herbivorous mammals. Modern sirenians are represented by two families: manatees and dugongs. These animals are considered to be a prototype of mermaids and sirens because of their ability to “stand” on a tail and pop a head out of water.

Nowadays the Serenia are not found in the Russian territorial waters. But there used to be one species near the Commander Islands. The Steller's sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas), an extinct sirenian and a relative of the modern dugong, was discovered in 1741. During the second expedition to Kamchatka led by Vitus Bering, the ship St. Peter wrecked by a small island. In order to survive, the crew had to hunt this strange marine animal. Its meat turned out to be both delicious and healthy. The sick became strong again and very soon navigators built a new ship and sailed back home. George Steller was one of the participants of the expedition. Thanks to his materials and descriptions, a new species was integrated into the Kingdom Animalia. However, Steller himself considered he dealt with a regular
manatee. Hydrodamalis gigas was described as a new species by Zimmermann in 1780.

Amazing creatures suffered from people. Steller's sea cows’ behavior was apathetic, so these animals were an easy prey. In 27 years after Steller’s study, in 1768, the last representative of the species was killed on Bering Island. Today all the Serenia species are considered endangered. The key problem is their habitat loss nowadays.

The Museum of the World Ocean is making research and going to present a restored and completed Steller’s sea cow skeleton at the newlybuilt Planet Oce an. This is a joint project with the Zoological Institute RAS (Saint Petersburg, Russia).

The year of 2021 is a year of an Ox or a Cow. So, a sea cow may be considered as a Symbol of the current year. The symbol reminding how vulnerable and fragile the nature of the World Ocean is and how it is important to protect and take care of the planet.

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