Le texte en anglais à suivre est issu d'un travail, rédigé dans la même langue, amorcé il y a un an, à 2 jours près (15 avril 2014). Depuis lors, j'ai eu accès à de nouvelles données, et j'ai eu la chance de pouvoir échanger avec le Dr Daryl Domning, qui travaille depuis plus de 50 ans sur les Dugongidae en général et les rhytines de Steller en particulier. J'ai ainsi pu achever cette version actualisée il y a 3 jours, le 10 avril.
Il en ressort que :
1. La "culture de la baleine" du Pacifique Nord, dans laquelle celle du tigre est enchâssée (voir sur ce blog : "L'Amour est éternel", 17 février, et "Russie : enlumineurs réinclus" , 5 avril),est originellement, dans la majorité des cas, une culture des rhytines de Steller.
2. L'extermination progressive des rhytines, qui s'est étalée, du sud - est au nord - ouest de l'arc du Pacifique septentrional, sur plus de 20 000 ans, constitue un "overkill préhistorique" parachevé dans la deuxième moitié du XVIIIème siècle. Celui - ci est fréquemment à l'origine de la chasse "traditionnelle" à la baleine. Au moins dans un premier temps, les proies de substitution furent des baleineaux.
3. Il y a au moins analogie entre ce processus et celui qui s'est déroulé en Russie centrale et orientale il y a des dizaines de milliers d'années, à savoir le remplacement "de vive force" des grands carnivores terrestres par des communautés de chasseurs - cueilleurs, dans le rôle des superprédateurs, avec toutes les conséquences de cette prise de fonction par de notoires incompétents en la matière : "Quand le tigre n'est plus là, les singes sont les rois de la montagne" dit fort bien un proverbe chinois... (voir Zimov 2014, dans "Une grande prairie en Russie centrale", sur ce blog le 13 décembre 2014).
4. Une approche culturelle dynamique pour le futur nécessite de croiser les données anthropologiques accumulées par Jean Malaurie, illustrées notamment dans son projet de revivification civilisationnelle (à l'Institut Polaire de St Petersbourg), avec les données écobiologiques accumulées par Daryl Domning d'une part, Sergeï Zimov de l'autre. Elle doit s'appuyer sur les liens puissants avec le Grand Animal et le paysage dans lequel il s'inscrit, ce qui peut permettre à cette grande Culture de guérir progressivement des blessures de la Modernité, et même de réorienter l'onde de choc sismique issue du meurtre originel, dans un parcours résolu et rédempteur, de la rhytine du passé à celle de l'Avenir.
PAR DELA L'ESPACE ET LE TEMPS. Le combat de Mocha Dick, défenseur de la veuve et de l'orphelin, chevalier blanc face au Massacre des Innocents (Blog du 18 janvier : "Epopée salvatrice") fut peut - être une expression spectaculaire de la résonance perpétuelle des liens cosmiques tissés par les organismes vivants entre eux, comme les connections synaptiques à l'intérieur d'un cerveau (John Vaillant :"Le tigre" 2011, eds. du Noir et Blanc, page 398, blog du 1è février : "L'Amour est éternel", 3ème partie). Présent dans le détroit de Béring pendant l'été 1848, à la fois point nodal et vecteur de Lois Cosmobiologiques qui confluèrent en lui, Mocha a sans doute lutté et souffert pour quelque chose qui dépassait, de très loin, son espèce, son espace et son temps.
Dans sa nouvelle "le phoque blanc", Rudyard Kipling évoque "le tunnel des vaches de mer" que des rhytines survivantes utilisent pour accéder à une plage inaccessible où elles vivent en toute discrétion, attendant l'opportunité d'un retour sans danger à la vue des Hommes. Par ailleurs, la cordillère de Sikhote - Alin, dans l'extrême orient russe, abrite des ifs du Japon dont certains sont plusieurs fois millénaires, et cotoyèrent les rhytines en des temps très anciens. Ils sont des figures tutélaires de ces lieux, comme le mélèze géant indestructible de la nouvelle de Valentin Raspoutine "L'Adieu à Matiora" (blog du 23 mars : "Adieu à l'île"). En ces lieux, les tigres, "qui ont le goût de la Beauté", selon les termes d'une spécialiste russe, se postent sur des promontoires rocheux en surplomb de la mer du Japon, et restent ainsi pendant des heures, à contempler l'immensité du Pacifique*. A quoi, à qui pensent -ils? Que regardent - ils vraiment? QUI ATTENDENT - ILS ?
* C'est aussi probablement aussi le cas juste au Sud, dans les Monts Chilbo -San, en Corée du Nord, sur le roc "Hogu" ("La gueule du tigre")...
L'AVATAR. Des hippopotames en processus de rhytinisation? Les travaux de Daryl Domning ont mis en évidence l'existance, à la période Eocène, d'ancêtres tétrapodes des Siréniens, qui ressemblaient à des hippopotames dans leur morphologie comme leur mode de vie (Pezosiren, Palaeoparadoxia, Demostylus...). Il existe aujourd'hui des populations semi - marines d'hippopotames : dans l'Atlantique (îles Bijagos en Guinée Bissau, Casamance, Gabon) et l'océan indien (îles Zanzibar et Mafia) Peut être certains d'entre eux sont -ils entrés dans un processus évolutif qui aboutira, dans 50 millions d'années, à un animal taxonomiquement différent des rhytines, mais convergent morphologiquement avec elles... Les plus proches parents des hippopotames sont officiellement les cétacés. Les ancêtres de ceux - ci étaient des quadrupèdes carnivores et ils ont conservé ce type de choix alimentaire. Les hippopotames, comme les siréniens et les ancêtres quadrupèdes de ceux - ci, sont herbivores... L'ARBRE AUX SABOTS. Munie d'une peau noire très épaisse, aussi dure que l'écorce d'un vieux chêne, tellement rugueuse qu'elle peut difficilement être percée à l'aide d'un crochet ou d'une hache, la Rhytine de Steller a un crâne qui évoque celui du cheval, de même que son crottin, et l'extrêmité de ses mains est couverte de bourrelet de peau indurée figurant un sabot. Elle s'aide beaucoup de ses mains pour se déplacer dans l'eau : comme l'hippopotame, elle marche plus qu'elle ne nage. En eau douce, le cheval du fleuve (Hippopotamus), parfois appelé la baleine terrestre (Cetosedaphos) et dans l'Océan, le cheval de mer (Hippothalassus).
STELLER'S SEA COWS : BURIED TRUTH, DYNAMICS FOR FUTURE
1. PAST. WHAT WAS THE REALITY OF LIFE FOR STELLER'S SEA COWS DURING THE THREE LAST MILLENIAS ?
What type of relationships had they with :
- Aleutian hunters ? Do archaeological elements of « Steller's Sea cows alley(s) » (like « Whale alleys » discovered by Mikhaïl Chlenov and Igor Krupnik in August 1976 in islands of Chukchi sea - Bowheads on Yttigran and Arakamchechen, many more calves of gray wales 100 kms nothermost, Mechigmensky Bay* - ( Malaurie 2003) or other cultual expressions exist amongst aleutian as well as chukchi cultures (from hypothesis by Domning in 1972, strenghtened through Domning, Thomasson & Corbett in 2007) ? Domning considered that widespread distribution of giant sea cows in the North Pacific in ancient times inevitably implicated their hunting had a profound influence in the development of whaling . Giant sirenians were progressively exterminated, then hunters began to attack « bigger and more dangerous sea cow like animals ». He emphasized the presence of rhytinas's bones intermingled with those of whales in some coastal middens. Moreover, the particular texture of their ribs probably implicates they were good material for work as cultual (or other uses) tools. Perhaps some of them had already been sold with (and as) walrus or mammoth tusks**... The ear bones may have been used as charms.
- Sea otters, big pinnipeds and cetaceans of medium size ?
- Big cetaceans, and particularly bowhead and blue whale for one part, spermwhale for another one ?
Who were their marine predators (orcas, pacific sleeping sharks, occasionally pilot whales and arctic bears) ?
What was their true geographical distribution ? Beyond aleutian sea west to east as shown by Lorelei Crerar and her team in 2014, and probably northernmost areas in Chukchi sea, do palaeontologic elements inducing presence of these animals in Southern Hemisphere exist, for instance, in linkage with « californian » populations ?
What was their true volume ? Estimated by Steller (concerning adult individuals) from 6 to 12m, with 4metric tonnes for 6m long individuals. So, 32metric tonnes for 12m, as much as big cetaceans like humpback or gray whales ? (24t for maximal estimations by Steller, mathematic basis of which non understood by me).
What was their true diet ? If californian giant sea cows were strictly vegetarians, like dugongs of tropical and subtropical areas, what about animals of cold regions like Northern Pacific ? 'As dugongs leaving in Southern Pacific are known as being omnivorous, particularly in southern areas of both western and eastern Australia, with evidence that they actively seek out both small, medium up to relatively large invertebrates ( work of Lawler & al. in 2002. Dugongs in the Great Barrier Reef : Current State of Knowledge. Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area ).
What were their true population dynamics ? Ordinary strongly underestimated in regard to illuminating elements given by Turvey and Riley in 2006, particularly on huge numbers of their losses since tardive dates (more than 530 catches in 1754, more than 300 in 1762, themselves considered as very defective historical data so with a true level of hunting still much higher...
2. PRESENT. ARE STELLER'S SEA COWS ELUSIVELY STILL AMONG US ?
After 1768, official date (no more credible for specialists like Daryl Domning or Arkady Savinetsky of their extinction, survival of sea cows has been emphasized in various regions of their historical distribution (California, British Colombia, Kamtchatka and Bering sea, Chukchi sea...).
As far as I know, last recorded witnesses have been realized between 1951 and 1976.
But perhaps are they more recent indications of presence...
Klumov (S.K) related observations realized between 1951 and 1956 in Commander Islands (were they had been studied by Steller in 1741 during Bering's expedition), with results published in 1962 in Priroda, N° 8, 65 – 75.
Moreover, Berzin (A.A), Tikhomirov (C.A), and Troïnin (V.I) mentioned actually perturbing observations by members of the Buran (whaler boat), in 1962, in coastal zone of Chukchi Sea : Navarin Cape (southern corner of Anadyr Gulf), about a herd of these animals. Their work was published in 1963 in Priroda 8, 73 – 75 : « Has sea cow become extinct ? » (in russian). The great naturalist Vladimir G. Heptner, which was perhaps intellectually hurted by these credible witnesses, hardly reacts against these assertions and answers in Priroda 7, 91 – 94, in 1965 « Still one time about Steller's sea cow » (in russian), with many more psychological tropisms determining dogmatic postures («speach of Authority ») than strong scientific argues. Ironically,, a few years later, the same one proposed a much more audacious hypothesis about presence of tigers in swampy areas of eastern Europe, with strong and rigorous scientific argues, He particularly deduces that the « fierce beast » mentioned by Great Prince Vladimir Monomaque in his « Instructions » was a tiger (O lyutom zvere Monomakhova « Poucheniya detyam ». in Okhota i Okhotn. 5, 42 – 43. 1969).
Furthermore, Vladimir Maliukovich recorded, in 1976, a disturbing witness by Ivan N.Tchetchulin, a kino projectionnist from the Karaga cultural animation brigade, in a salmon fishery of Anapka Bay (Northern Kamtchatka). He published it in the Kamtchatsky Komsomolets in january 1977 : « Where are you, Steller's Sea Cow ? » (in russian).
3. FUTURE . HOW « THE RETURN OF THE RUSSIAN TIGER » (Sennepin 2014a, pages 2 – 4) CAN BRING SEA COWS TO LIFE AGAIN THROUGH « THE WHALE STREAM » (Sennepin 2014a, pages 12 – 15).
What has occured for tigers in russian far – east between 1995 and today is not only a good instance of successful restoration a a top predator, but also a model for other feline, whales, and, perhaps, even Steller's sea cows. The first and crucial step to save Amur tigers was the antipoaching Amba operation.
Feline : a genetic study that had illustrated proximity between Amur tiger and extinct Caspian congener was an important step towards the reconstruction of the second one in central Asia that will begin in 2014 (see Driscoll & al. 2009. Mitochondrial phylogeography illuminates the origin of the extinct caspian tiger and its relationship to the amur tiger. PlosOne 4 (1)) : the final step of preparation in tiger restoration plan in Kazakstan will occur from 21 to 28 may 2014. Then, 2 or 3 tigers will be introduced each year during 15 years. The goal is a stable population of more than 100 and less than 200 tigers. If successful, a similar initiative could be engaged in two or three decades in the Uzbek side of Aral sea boarders. In the long term (centuries to come), central Asia could host as many tigers as in past centuries : several thousands, more than all wild tigers in the world today.
Since then, a similar study has been realized concerning Sunda tigers, with the goal of opening a way of restoration for relictual Java and extinct Bali tigers (Driscoll C. Personal communication, April 11th 2014). The same process is engaged for extinct Atlas lions, in regard to their proximity with indian congeners ("Revealing the maternal demographic history of Panthera leo using ancient DNA and a spatially explicit genealogical analysis". Ross Barnett, Noboyuki Yamaguchi, Beth Shapiro, Simon YW Ho, Ian Barnes, Richard Sabin, Lars Werdelin, Jacques Cuisin, Greger Larson. BMC Evolutionary Biology 14 (70). Published on April 2nd 2014). Since then, on 15 february 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India announced an ambitious plan for restoration of lions in India, challenging Tiger Project of Indira Gandhi in 1973...
Whales. Restoration of biggest animals of the world is a major challenge concerning, beyond them and through their ecological role, the equilibrium of the whole planet. Strenghtening cetaceans induces, of course, multifactorial modalities, that will be detailed in a much denser paper (to come) than this present short one. We only briefly mention here the most evident first step, and the ultimate goal.
FIRST STEP : if compared to « tiger process » since the end of last century, with a key initial action to stop direct destruction of animals (« Amba operation »), the decision, in January 2014, of environment ministry of Senegal Haidar El Ali to work with Sea Shepherd, association of the famous « pirat of seas » Paul Watson, to fight against illegal fishing with more efficiency, might be the beginning of a « privateerisation »process by other countries in the same defensive way.
ULTIMATE GOAL : if compared to restoration of thriving populations of tigers in central Asia in the future, blue whales of southern Ocean (with presently no more than 2000 or 3000 individuals) were 100 times more numerous in 1900 in this area. Austral Ocean hosts also animals bigger than congeners of northern zones. Here are the biggest blue whales of the world, as well as sea elephants, sleeping shaks, colossal squids... and could become a true « planetarian wild show - case ».
Steller's Sea cows. Even if we don't know if relictual groups of sea cows are still elusively present somewhere in Bering or Chukchi seas, as traditional autochtonous hunters say from time to time up to now, perhaps there is possibility of reconstitution of these animals from DNA found in their corpses. A similar protocol concerning mammoths is nowadays well engaged ( « Siberian scientists announce they now have a "high chance" to clone the woolly mammoth », Siberian Times ,Anna Liesowska, March 13th 2014) from both works of Sergeï Zimov in the field (Cherskii station), since 1989, and South Korean geneticist Hwang woo – Suk.
Perhaps something could be done from bones (1 scapula, 3 vertebrae, 56 ribs collected by Alexander Burdin during his field « gathering » on Bering Island in 2011 ( as established in 12 pages Progress report by Burdin , Potgieter and O'Corry-Crowe in 2012.
Reconstruction of the animal, followed by reconstitution of populations in the Northern Pacific could open the possibility, in a deeper future, to introduce familial nuclei in southern Ocean, with potential apparition after several generations of very big animals (several dizains of metric tons) like were, perhaps, the biggest individuals in northern Pacific during epochs of maximal prosperity.
* From the hypothesis of Domning (1972), it could even be emphasized that 1500 gray whale calves' alley on Chukchi Mechigmensky Bay as well as many remains of right whale calves in middens of canadian inuit whalers (Krupnik 1993) result from a phasis of « easy whaling » in first step of substitution to giant sea cows. Domning (personal communication, April 10th 2015), considers « that any easier alternatives to harpooning a full – grown pelagic whale would have been seized on first by early hunters – whether whale calves or sea cows, depending on what was locally available. »
** But for Daryl Domning (personal communication, April 8th 2015), « the greater concern today is that arifacts made of bones of protected marine mammals (such as walruses and whales) can be sold illegally by claiming they are bone of Hydrodamalis – which is not legally protected because it is extinct ! »
Here joined personal communications of Dr Daryl Domning, on April 6th and 7th 2015, and my personal reflexions they induced.
Dear M. Sennepin,
Your questions about Steller's sea cow are good ones; those are things we would like to know more about. You could add further questions such as: How many pairs of ribs and how many caudal vertebrae did they have? What did the bones of their manus look like? ... plus many other details about their morphology and biology. However, there is no evidence they ever lived south of the Equator, nor would it make ecological sense to introduce them there even if we could -- they were never part of those ecosystems.
Furthermore, I can say with very high confidence that there are no more of them alive today, or at any time in the past century or more. Even a small population of such large animals would have been noticed by now (given their coastal, shallow-water habitat), and none of the alleged sightings has been accompanied by physical evidence or stood up to critical examination.
As for re-creating them from DNA and reintroducing them into the wild, this has not yet been accomplished even for mammoths (for which whole frozen carcasses exist, as well as live elephants that could be potential surrogate mothers). Even if we had an intact sea cow genome (of both sexes and multiple individuals), there are no living animals that would be remotely capable of gestating and birthing a Hydrodamalis. I'm afraid this is destined to remain a dream.
For the following one, he considers that North Pacific hunters have probably exterminated Steller's sea cows (like it seems it has been the case millenias before concerning California coasts, then successively those of Japan, Kuril & Sakhalin, Kamtchatka. Aleutians whalers had the most primitive technique of the whole region, in adequation to his thesis proposed in 1972 ). In margin of these considerations, the « Whale culture » of Northern Pacific, from Mechigmensky Bay to Korea and Japan is originaly a « Giant Sea Cow » one, that envelops the « tiger culture » of its meridional part.
« As for the origin of whaling, I have no idea which or how many North Pacific cultures started by hunting sea cows; but I would guess that any group that lived for any length of time on a coast where sea cows were present would have taken to hunting them almost as quickly and as easily as Bering's crew did (over the course of one winter!). Only the abundance of other food sources would have delayed them, and probably not by much. » The destruction of Hydrodamalis, followed by slaughter of whale calves, seems to be homologous to first consequences of competitive substitution of big carnivores by prehistoric hunters / gatherers as top predators (Zimov 2014, Sennepin 2014b). The linkage can even be pushed farther, as Igor Krupnik, who had, with his collegue Mikhaïl Chlenov, already illuminated the eye of european civilization, discovering chukchi whale alleys in August 1976 (and most of all, understanding what it was really, as this site has been seen by many explorers in the past but NEVER recorded - Malaurie 2003 - ), has also shown, in 1993, in a study on whale calves' slaughter by traditional whale hunters, that « eskimo whaling and bone utilization resemble the strategies used by upper Paleolithic mammoth hunters in central russian plain. »
From these different considerations, a (far) future reconstitution which will be founded on a strong cultural meaning perhaps implicates progressive selection of big dugong individuals (some of those living in large number in Gulf of Carpentaria, northern Australia, or in Moreton Bay, eastern Australia, could convenient) besides vigorously protecting and continuously helping for comeback from brink a group strongly appreciated by present human community of the ancient Seacow/Whale culture. Those of southern islands of Japan, now in very small number, were ancient cultural icons for the Okinawan people, with particular cultual monuments (« utaki ») built onto their devotion. They are listed as an object of national cultural significance under Japan's Law for the protection of cultural properties (see also Takahashi 2004, Sennepin 2010, as well as presence of dugongs off cape Henoko, city of Nago, and the opposition of Mayor Susumu Inamine to US base in May 2014). These cruised actions could, perhaps, constitute in the long term a convenient matrix for rhytinas' rebirth, (after selection of biggest individuals through many generations). In the same time DNA research from rhitinas' bones might be toroughly managed - inducing extended field searches to ancient coastal middens of aboriginal whalers -, as well as an explicite cultural project for inscription of present and future far eastern culture in dozens of millenias « chronocircular » process from rhytina to rhytina...
Nowadays, more in the south, graveyards devoted to whales are flourishing in Vietnam. In Ba Ria -Vung Tau province, one of them has several hundreds of whales, with many tombs built in 2010, and several temples.
See also : Jennifer Viegas, February 23, 2010. Thousands Mourn Dead Whales in Vietnam.
In another district of the same province, the first « dugong festival » has been realized on 30 November 2014.
Moreover, in Va Phong Bay, whales and whale sharks are coming between April and July. Temples are devoted to them as Sacred Animals, and between Marsh and April, Ceremonies of welcome to "Sir Fish" (Ca Ong) are organized.
Alain SENNEPIN, April 10th 2015.
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