The Order Sirenia encompasses a group of herbivorous mammals completely adapted to an aquatic life. There are four living species—three Manatees (Family Trichechidae) and one Dugong (Family Dugongidae). The Amazon manatee (Trichechus inunguis) is exclusively a freshwater animal, while the others inhabit both salt- and freshwater. A fifth species called the Steller's Sea Cow, the largest sirenian that ever lived, was apparently exterminated in the late eighteenth century. All sirenians have one pair of large front flippers, thick bones to help them stay submerged, no external hind limbs, axillary mammary glands at the base of each flipper, and powerful tails for propulsion. Their peaceful disposition, slow movement, and poor hearing make them especially vulnerable to human exploitation.
The first sirenians appeared in the Early Eocene, about 52 million years ago, in Eurasian seas and quickly spread to other tropical areas. The earliest known fossil (Prorastomus) is from Jamaica.
Although often cited as the source for MerMAID sightings, sirenians probably have less to do with Merbeing mythology than Seals. Of the five listed here, two probably involve upriver extensions of the range of the west African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis); the Lake TITICACA SEAL could just as well be a manatee; and the St. Helena Manatee is more than likely a seal. Finally, reports of the persistence of Steller's Sea Cow in the North Pacific have surfaced occasionally.
Auli; Lake Titicaca Seal; Miga; St. Helena Manatee; Steller's Sea Cow
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