Rhytina - Encyclopedia

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RHYTINA, a name applied to the northern sea-cow (Rhytina gigas, or stelleri), a gigantic relative of the manati and dugong, which formerly inhabited Bering and Copper Islands, in the North Pacific, where it was discovered during Bering's voyage in 1741, and subsequently described by Steller, who accompanied that expedition as a naturalist. Bering's half-starved sailors soon reduced the numbers of these comparatively helpless creatures; and it was not long after - probably about the year 1768 - that the species, which was the sole representative of its genus, became completely exterminated. The Rhytina was the largest member of the order Sirenia, attaining a length of nearly twenty feet; and had a very thick, rugged, bark-like skin. The jaws, which are bent downwards to a moderate extent, are unprovided with teeth, but in life carried ridged horny plates. The tail was very deeply forked; and the flippers were short and truncated, lacking apparently the terminal joints of the digits.

When first discovered, this Sirenian was extremely numerous in the bays of Bering Island, where it browsed upon the abundant sea-tangle. Its extirpation is due to the Russian sailors and traders who visited the island in pursuit of seals and sea-otters, and who subsisted on its flesh. Numbers of bones have been discovered in the soil of Bering and Copper Islands, from which more or less nearly perfect skeletons have been reconstructed, so that the osteology of this interesting animal is well represented in most of the larger museums. (R. L.*)

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