Prehistoric Sea Cow Fossils Discovered in California Could Be Species Entirely New to Science

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The fossilized remains may be of an entirely new species of sea cow. National Parks Service

While mapping fault lines in California, scientists accidentally stumbled upon the 20 to 25 million-year-old fossilized remains of a now-extinct sea cow, a relative of the modern-day manatee and dugong. The team believe the remains may be of a previously unidentified sea cow species, and now want to run tests to confirm the discovery of this possibly previously unknown creature.

The sea cow remains were found on Santa Rosa Island, the second largest of the Channel Islands off the coast of southern California about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles. The remains were unearthed in July of this year, but have now been released to the public, as announced by the National Park Service of California.

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The remains consist of a fossilized skull and partial rib cage and were found in a steep ravine where they had been exposed by the time scientists discovered them during a geological survey.

Not only are the fossils several million years old, but they also likely originated in a completely different part of the ocean floor, having moved to the Channel Island due to plate shifts over the past several million years

“It came from a different place and a different time period,” said Jonathan Hoffman describing the fossils in a statement. Hoffman is a paleontologist with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and will lead a team of volunteers in protecting the fossils this winter before resuming excavation next spring. Hoffman said the sea cow remains likely originated in the San Diego area, about 150 miles south of where they were recently uncovered, The Independent reported.

fossil2 The fossils are of an ancient aquatic mammal that is related to modern day manatees. National Park Service

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The researchers still are not entirely sure of which species of sea cow remains may belong to, however according to the National Park Service announcement, the fossil may represent an entirely new species of sea cow, never before identified by science. Researchers hope to further excavate both the sea cow remains and the the surrounding wilderness area to get a better idea of the fossil’s origins, The Independent reported.

Sea cows are an ocean mammal that today exist in only four species, including three manatees species that live in the Amazon, West Indies and West Africa, and the dugong of the western Pacific. However, not long ago, these gentle giants roamed the world’s oceans in far more abundance. The most recent sea cow species to become extinct was Stellar’s sea cow, a massive aquatic mammal that disappeared around 250 years ago after being over-hunted by humans, the BBC reported.

fossil3 Scientists plan to further excavate the remains and the surrounding area next spring and summer. National Park Service

Humans no longer hunt sea cows for meat, but their numbers continue to decline. The reason is not clear, although some theories suggest humans may still play a role, whether it be due to climate change or boating accidents, The Guardian reported.