In the last 500 years, the oceans have suffered far fewer extinctions than on land—at least that we know of. According to a recent study in Science, 15 animals are known to have vanished forever from the oceans while terrestrial ecosystems have seen 514 extinctions.
The researchers, however, warn that the number of marine extinctions could rise rapidly as the oceans are industrialized for food, fossil fuels, minerals, energy, and transportation. The industrial revolution, which kickstarted on land in the 19th Century, may now be entering the marine environment. For more on this research: Empty seas? Scientists warn of an industrialized ocean
Here’s a pictorial look at the 15 known marine species lost in since 1500 AD:
Steller’s sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas) was literally eaten to extinction by humans. It was sent to oblivion 27 years after Europeans discovered it. Image by: Peter Schouten from ‘A Gap In Nature’.
The sea mink (Neovison macrodon) was hunted to extinction for its fur. It lived along the Atlantic coast of North America. Photo by: R.H. Manville 1966. Proceedings of the US National Museum. Vol. 122.
The Labrador duck (Camptorhynchus labradorius) was never abundant, but hunting and possibly egg collecting are believed to have played a role in its extinction. Image by: John James Audobon.
The only marine fish known to have gone extinct in the last 500 years: the New Zealand grayling (Prototroctes oxyrhynchus). This species spawned in streams but grew into maturity in the oceans off New Zealand. Overharvesting, invasive trout, and deforestation are thought to have led to its extinction. Image by: Frank Edward Clarke.
The Caribbean monk seal (Monachus tropicalis) was only declared officially extinct in 2008 by the IUCN Red List, though it died out in the 1950s. The seal was largely hunted to extinction, though overfishing of reefs may have also depleted its prey source. Image by: Peter Schouten from ‘A Gap In Nature’.
The small Saint Helena petrel (Bulweria bifax), a marine bird, is thought to have gone extinct shortly after its discovery in the 1500s, known only today from fossils. The large Saint Helena petrel was also wiped out. Pictured is an engraving of the island of Saint Helena. Image by: Public Domain.
Littoraria flammea was a sea snail found in China. Pictured here is a surviving relative: Littoraria melanostoma. Image by: EC Hong Kong.