The World Today

The World Today
Earth in 2013

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cook Sea Cow

Status: Critically Endangered

Only a few hundred of these arctic manatees can still be found in the Cook Sea, mostly in the west of the sea, around the Commander Islands (as named by James Cook). They are related to manatees of the Carribean, but are much larger, between 8 and 10 tonnes. These gentle marine grazers have always been hunted by the Aleuts and other tribes around the Cook Sea. Only their relatively recent discovery, 1778, by Europeans preserved the species. Their bodies contain much oil that would have made them targets of whalers. Both Kamchatka and Canada have banned all hunting of the sea cows (Kamchatka went further to declare the Commander Islands a nature preserve), but their populations are still threatened by orcas, which with diminishing salmon populations, are forced to turn to other food sources. The Seattle Aquarium, and other marine institutions along the American Pacific Coast, have launched a breeding program starting in the 1980s. Seattle has five of these dugongs in captivity, the most in any one institution.

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