Steller's sea ape
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Steller's sea ape (Simnia marina danica) is an unconfirmed marine animal described from only a single sighting by explorer Georg Wilhelm Steller on August 10, 1741, in waters off the Shumagin Islands, Alaska. This is the only animal described by Steller that has not been corroborated by physical evidence or other witnesses.
Steller described the animal as about 5 ft (~1.5 m) long with a head similar to that of a hog. It had large eyes, pointed, erect ears, and long whiskers. Its tail resembled that of a shark, but it had no forefeet or forefins. Its body was covered with thick grayish hair, but its abdomen was reddish-white. Steller recalled that it resembled an animal illustrated by Gesner which had been called Simia marina, Latin for "sea ape".
Steller wrote that the animal raised its front end out of the water to observe the ship and engaged in an amusing juggling behavior with a piece of seaweed. Steller attempted to shoot the animal with a gun but missed. The ship's log did not note the sea ape encounter, and Steller's 1742 governmental report made no mention of it, nor did he include a description of the creature in his De Bestiis Marinis (‘The Beasts of the Sea’).
Sailor Miles Smeeton records an entry in his book Misty Islands of an encounter with an animal while sailing in the Aleutian Islands in 1969. His description is remarkably similar to Steller's. It was seen by Smeeton, his daughter and a friend. They had no idea what the animal was at the time, but after reading the description by Steller some time later, they felt it closely matched their own observations.
According to biographer Dean Littlepage, a young Northern fur seal appears to be the most likely explanation for the sighting. Their forelimbs are set far enough behind on their torso so that they could have been obscured below the waterline, and the "shark-like" tail of the creature may have been the animal's hind flippers. Steller had already been familiar with fur seals, but Littlepage suggests that the poor lighting conditions during the lengthiest encounter of a probable juvenile fur seal could account for the misidentification.
Another possibility is that the sea ape did not exist and that Simnia marina danica was simply a vengeful caricature of the Danish captain of the ship, Vitus Bering. This is supported by its omission from Steller's official reports.
- Frost, O.W. (1993). Journal of a Voyage with Bering, 1741-1742. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-2181-5.
- Frost, O.W. 2003. Bering: The Russian Discovery of America. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10059-0
- Littlepage, D. (2006). Steller's Island: Adventures of a Pioneer Naturalist in Alaska. The Mountaineers Books. ISBN 1-59485-057-7.
- Thaler, Andrew. "The Secret History Behind Steller's Sea Ape". The Portalist. Retrieved 7 November 2016.