In August 2018, a paleontological crew excavated the first known sea cow fossil skeleton from Channel Islands National Park. The crew of volunteers and researchers was led by Dr. Jonathan Hoffman, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s Dibblee Collection Manager of Earth Science. Once the excavation on Santa Rosa Island was complete, National Park Service employees built a crate for the specimen that was then airlifted out of a ravine and transported to the mainland on a Park Service boat. The specimen, discovered by Scott Minor and Dr. Kevin Schmidt of the United States Geological Survey, is estimated to be 20 to 25 million years old and is likely a new species.
Sea cows, known to scientists as sirenians, are the only modern marine mammals that are primarily plant-eaters. Modern sirenians include manatees and dugongs, which live in different parts of the world. Today there are 3 species of manatees that inhabit the Atlantic coastlines of North America, South America, and Africa as well as rivers in South America. Modern dugongs are represented by just one species that is found in the coastal waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans: the northern coast of Australia, throughout Indonesia, the western coast of India, and the eastern coast of Africa. The dugong is the closest modern relative to the Santa Rosa Island sirenian.