SANTA ROSA ISLAND - A fossil of an extinct species of sea cow known as Sirenians was recently discovered on Santa Rosa Island. The fossil is estimated to be between 20-25 million years old.
The remains were found in a steep ravine on July 17, 2017, by Scott Minor and Kevin Schmidt, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey, as they were mapping faults on the island.
Scientists anticipate the fossilized remains of a skull and rib cage will prove the existence of a new species of sea cow after the remains are analyzed by marine taxonomic expert Dr. Jorge Velez-Juarbe at the Natural Museum of Los Angeles County.
At one time there were over a dozen different types of sirenians in the wold, according to scientists, but many believe a decline in food, environmental, and oceanographic conditions may have contributed to their decline. The name sirenian is derived from the mermaids of Greek mythology.
Their modern relatives include three species of manatee and one direct relative called dugong, found in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean and the east coast of Africa. The Stellar's sea cow, the last remaining dugong on North America's west coast, was hunted to extinction by people in the 1760's.
Scientists believe this ancient sirenian, or sea cow, lived in shallow seas near Santa Rosa Island before the island's coastal landscape moved hundreds of miles north to its current location during the shifting of the Pacific Plate over the course of millions of years, according to a news release from the Channel Islands National Park.
A team of scientists collected fossils from nearby snails, clam shells, and crustacea, also known as marine microfauna fossils, to help understand not only how this ancient mammal lived, but also the type of environment it lived in.
The newly discovered specimen is being protected from the upcoming winter weather by a team of volunteers so it's ready for a planned excavation project in spring or summer 2018.