Drawing by Matt Stanfield
Remembrance Day for Lost Species (RDLS), November 30th, is a chance each year to explore the stories of extinct species. These naturally lead to the stories of critically endangered species, ways of life, and ecological communities. Set up in 2011 in response to species extinctions resulting from human activity, RDLS is an opportunity to make or renew commitments to all who remain and to collaborate on creative and practical solutions. The primary intention of the day is to create spaces for grieving and reflection. Previous activities have included art, processions, tree planting, building Life Cairns, bell casting and ringing, Regenerative Memorials and more. Explore this website for examples of past events.
For 2018, RDLS invites events on or around November 30th to mark the extinction and endangerment of marine mammals and/or the ongoing threats to seas. The focal lost species for 2018 is Steller’s sea cow. Alternatively, RDLS participants are welcome to focus on any lost or disappearing species or ecological community. Please see the list of suggested activities below.
Steller’s sea cow
Steller’s sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas) was a large marine mammal whose living relatives are the dugong and the manatee. Steller’s sea cow was last seen in 1768 in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia, just a few years after it was first observed and named by Europeans. 2018 marks the 250th anniversary of its extinction. The story of Steller’s sea cow story has much to teach about how species can be extinguished with shocking speed.
Steller’s sea cow was named by Georg Wilhelm Steller, a German naturalist who noticed the creatures whilst shipwrecked on Bering Island during a scientific mapping expedition of the Arctic. Much of what is known about the sea cow comes from Steller’s 1741 observations. Fur hunters, who then set up a trading post on the island, subsisted on sea cows, which were easy to hunt as they were slow moving and rarely submerged. All the sea cows were gone by 1768.
Growing up to nine metres in length and weighing up to ten tonnes, Steller’s sea cows provided refuge for many species, including fish, several species of crustaceans now extinct, and resting birds. They communicated with sighs and snorts, fed mainly on kelp, and were monogamous and sociable. Mothers nursed and raised one baby at a time.
Illustration by by F. John
Suggested RDLS activities:
- Respond to the story of Steller’s sea cow or focus on the story of another marine species, community or issue you’re passionate about. Other examples include grey whales, orcas, vaquita, eels, krill, otters, salmon and many more.
- Focus on local stories of extinction or endangerment, and on ways to restore relationships with one or more species of your ecological community.
- Explore links between human-induced extinctions and other forms of structural violence.
- On days before or after RDLS, organise or participate in personally and collectively restorative activities (e.g. beach and waterway cleans, tree planting, gardening with pollinators and soil in mind).
How to join RDLS 2018