Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Wednesday, 5 January 2011

STELLER’S SEA-BEAR – A POLAR BEAR IN JAPAN?


Polar bear

Georg Wilhem Steller (1709-1746) was a German naturalist and explorer who took part in Vitus Bering’s Second Kamchatka Expedition to Russia’s Far East during the early 1740s, and whose greatest contribution to science was the discovery and description of several major new species of animal while the expedition was shipwrecked on Bering Island. These included a new jay, eider duck, sea eagle, sea-lion, and, most famously, a gigantic sirenian, Steller’s sea-cow Hydrodamalis gigas, which, tragically, was hunted into extinction within the next three decades.

Steller also documented three very puzzling creatures whose identities remain unknown to this day. One was an extraordinary sea mammal variously likened to a seal or even a merman, which has been dubbed Steller’s sea-ape and was documented by me in my book Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999). The second was a bird, Steller’s sea-raven, which I have chronicled in various articles. As far as I am aware, however, the third member of this mystifying trio is scarcely even remembered nowadays, has not previously been reported by me, and is known as Steller’s sea-bear.

Steller recorded it as follows in his book De Bestiis Marinis [Beasts of the Sea] (1751):

"Report, as I gather from the account of the people, has declared that the sea-bear, as it is called by the Rutheni and other people is different. They say it is an amphibious sea beast very like a bear, but very fierce, both on land and in the water. They told likewise, that in the year 1736 it had overturned a boat and torn two men to pieces; that they were very much alarmed when they heard the sound of its voice, which was like the growl of a bear, and that they fled from their chase of the otter and seals on the sea and hastened back to land. They say that it is covered with white fur; that it lives near the Kuril Islands, and is more numerous toward Japan; that here it is seldom seen. I myself do not know how far to believe this report, for no one has ever seen one, either slain or cast up dead upon the shore."

Needless to say, this description readily calls to mind the polar bear Ursus maritimus – but there is one major problem when attempting to reconcile Steller’s sea-bear with the latter species. There is no confirmed record of the polar bear ever having been found anywhere near as far south as the Kuril Islands, let alone towards those of Japan.

Could it be, as suggested back in 2002 by Steller scholar Chris Orrick, that reports of polar bears seen further north (this species was already well known in Steller’s time) had somehow become confused with those of fur seals, which are not white but are often loosely if inaccurately dubbed ‘sea-bears’ and are indeed found around the Kurils and Japan? As for his treating the very existence of the sea-bear with suspicion, perhaps Steller was not aware of the polar bear’s marine behaviour, mistakenly assuming that it was exclusively terrestrial.

2 comments:

  1. Could it be possible that the Steller's Sea Bear is actually a new species of aquatic bear, now extinct? I think the possibility is worth investigating. And who knows? They could still be around today, but are always mistaken for swimming polar bears! A fascinating article, Dr. Shuker. Thank you for sharing it.

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  2. Wonderful article Karl, its a shame that so many species were and are Hunted to extinction, before questions were answered about them. Has anyone looked at what sort of weather conditions were like in this area, where Stellers Sea Bear was reported. Was it possible colder conditions bought the bears to this area. Even a scarcity of food north?

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