Thursday, October 7, 2010

Not So Steller

 I was hoping, when we visited the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center in Crescent City, to see a Steller's sea lion, so that if we ever saw one in the wild we'd know what we were seeing.

We sidled quietly up to the enclosures and got to see this very cute harbor seal pup. 

No Steller's sea lions, however.  There had been one there earlier in the year, but they released her and she died.

Steller's sea lions are named for Georg Wilhelm Steller, a German naturalist who set sail in 1741 with Danish navigator Vitus Bering on a mission of exploration.  They left Russia's far east for Alaska, crossing the strait that would later bear Bering's name.  It was a lucky trip for Steller. On the return voyage they were shipwrecked on this island, one of a chain known as the Commander Islands.  Doesn't it look cozy?
Treeless, foggy, prone to severe storms, it also has frequent earthquakes.  Bering got his name slapped on it but he also died there. As did much of his crew, from scurvy.  They were forced to overwinter and were reportedly "plagued by arctic foxes".  Steller, however, set about describing the wildlife in detail.  It was here that he described the Steller sea lion and the Steller sea cow.

Boy would I like to see a Steller's sea cow, whose range did once include California.


When Steller made this sketch in 1741 Steller sea cows had already been extirpated in all their range except for the cold, inhospitable Commander Islands. These gentle, herbivorous 30 foot long manatee relatives went the way of the dinosaur in 1768, just 27 years after Steller first laid eyes on them.  They were slow moving, they could not dive, and they were tasty.  End of story.

Theirs, anyway.  Ours will continue with more mammal sightings at beautiful Jedediah Smith Redwoods Park.


Karen said...

I've just read back several posts over your Cali Wildlife project, and I am LOVING it.

I'm amazed that you kept your head enough to take pics of the bat in your bedroom, and that the words 'kissing' and 'banana slug' coexist in the same sentence. You are a braver lady than I!

Can't wait for the continuing story...

Kristin said...

I like the history in this post. Very interesting. Have fun up there. It's gorgeous!