Scientists recently uncovered the fossilized remains of an extinct species of sea cow on one of the Channel Islands that are possibly among “the oldest of its kind” on North America’s west coast, the National Park Service announced Monday.
The scientists were mapping earthquake faults in a steep ravine on Santa Rosa Island this past summer when they found the fossils of a skull and partially articulated rib cage, the park service said in a statement.
“This sea cow may have only been exposed the past few years after being buried for millions of years,” said Jonathan Hoffman, a paleontologist with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.
Remnants of at least four other sea cows were also uncovered nearby.
Hoffman and a team of volunteers will be protecting the specimen until they can begin excavating in spring or early summer.
Sea cows are torpedo-shaped aquatic mammals that roam shallow waters and can grow to be about 10-feet in length, according to the park service. Their modern relatives include the dugong and three species of manatee.
The remains found on Santa Rosa Island may be from a previously undiscovered species of species cow, something scientists expect to be confirmed once an expert analyzes the skull, according to the statement.
Some of the oldest date back 50 million years, but the recently discovered sea cows are believed to have lived between 20 to 25 millions years ago.
At the time, the island’s coastal landscape was located hundreds of miles from where it is presently situated, off the coast of Santa Barbara in Santa Barbara County, according to the statement.
The land has shifted over millions of years, moving northward as the Pacific tectonic plate migrated and rotated and — in the process — lifting the ancient sea floor up to nearly 1,400 feet above sea level.