Our goal is
to revive
sea cow

the lost

Alexei Tikhonov
We are discussing an animal that has gone extinct, possibly due to human fault. If there's an opportunity for humans to take action and attempt to restore it, why should we not pursue it?
A replica of a Steller's sea cow, which is on display in the Natural History Museum in London.
Also called:
Sea cow
(«cabbage eater» in Russian)
Hydrodamalis gigas
A mammal of the Sirenia order was wiped out by humans. The closest living relative is the dugong.
Steller's sea cow sketch Steller's sketch
Georg Steller Georg Steller
Vitus Bering Vitus Bering
Alexei Tikhonov
Although we have descriptions provided by the naturalist Georg Steller, our knowledge about this animal is essentially limited. Consequently, as we work towards reviving the species, we are also reconstructing its way of life.
Steller’s sea cow fed kelps, species from order Laminariales
100 thousand years ago
in the late Pleistocene
at the time of the discovery of the
18th century
So we're going to the Commander Islands, specifically Bering Island.
5 stages of the Steller`s sea cow
de-extinction project

Collecting tissue samples and isolating ancient DNA

The quantity and quality of ancient DNA preserved depends on many factors. We will need to collect the maximum possible number of samples, in each of which it will be necessary to separate fragments of Steller’s sea cow DNA from the DNA of plants, bacteria, fungi, humans, etc.


Sequencing and assembly of the Steller’s sea cow genome

After sequencing the ancient DNA, we will employ bioinformatics techniques to reconstruct chromosomes from fragmented pieces of DNA. This process will help us identify and comprehend the fundamental genetic distinctions between Steller’s sea cow and dugong.


CRISPR gene editing of dugong cells

Knowing the differences in the genomes of the Steller’s sea cow and the dugong, we will use genetic engineering to introduce changes into the DNA of the dugong cell in order to make them as similar as possible.

At each stage of big changes, we examine the genomes of the cell lines we created to see whether they went through the changes we wanted or not.

Artificial cultivation of embryos

In order to initiate embryonic development within a cell, it is probable that we will require an «artificial womb.» It is our aspiration that advancements in this field will considerably progress in the foreseeable future.


Adaptation of an animal to the environment and its possible return to nature

One of the most difficult stages, highly dependent on the state of the ecosystem in the traditional regions where the Steller’s sea cow lived at that time.

«Arctic sirenia»



Initiator and sponsor of the project
Sergei Bachin
Most of the projects that my companies are implementing now can be described as «something that no one has done before».

General Director of «Vasta Discovery», a company implementing projects in the field of development and integrated development of territories in various regions of the Russian Federation.

He actively invests in the development of tourism infrastructure, following the principles of wildlife conservation and respect for the environment of protected areas.

One of the Vasta Discovery projects is the Ebeko Hotel in Severo-Kurilsk and the «Onekotan Archipelago» tourist cluster on the islands of the Kuril chain, where the habitat of the Steller’s sea cow was also located.

Since February 2012, he has been Chairman of the Board of Directors of «Agranta» company. One of the company’s areas of work is the development of agriculture, including the production, processing and sale of organic products.

Global idea

Over the past decade, advances in genetic engineering technology have made the revival of extinct species a reality. Several teams of scientists in different countries began work in these directions: from huge mammoths to small passenger pigeons.

Most of the projects that my companies are implementing now can be described as «something that no one has done before,» be it the construction of tourist facilities in the Arctic Circle or the integrated development of territories in Kamchatka and the Northern Kuril Islands. Unlike others, Steller’s sea cow de-extinction project is non-profit. It requires not just gathering a team of specialists, but uniting like-minded scientists and funding their research throughout. This is what really fascinates me!


The Steller`s sea cow revival project is no exception. In addition to the desire to work «at the cutting edge» of modern science, he has several other motivations:

  • Steller’s sea cow was a species that historically lived on the Pacific coast of modern Russia;
  • It has been documented that the disappearance of the last known population living on the Commander Islands was not the result of natural factors, but of human activity.

Investment in the future

Many fear that the consequences of experiments to resurrect extinct species may be unpredictable in terms of the impact on existing ecosystems, however, here too, Steller’s sea cow has obvious advantages. The disappearance of this species occurred relatively recently, and the ecosystem of its former habitats has undergone virtually no changes. In addition, the very long reproductive cycle, very low population growth rate and low mobility make it possible to ensure constant control over it from the moment the first single individuals appear.

I understand that this project will be long and certainly not easy, but I believe that it will make a significant contribution to the preservation and expansion of the biodiversity of our planet.


Project Manager
Aleksei Kostin
I would like to hope that the development of science will allow, if not us, then our children, to admire these giants, once again peacefully grazing off the Russian coast.

Since 2009, he has been a member of the management of the «Agranta» group of companies.

Since its inception, he has been supervising the activities of the «AgriVolga» agricultural holding company, which is part of the group. One of the company’s areas of work is the development of agriculture, including the production, processing and sale of organic products.

Heads a number of research projects of the group.

Among the principles: environmentally friendly and natural farming, respect for the environment.

Origin of interest

It all started with the fact that at the end of 2021, while working on one of the tourism projects in the Northern Kuril Islands, Sergei Viktorovich Bachin drew attention to the abundance of seaweed, forming entire fields in coastal bays. Being a thrifty person, he began to look for how such a quantity of biomass could be used, who would feed on it, etc.

In addition to sea urchins and mollusks, he came across a mention of the Steller’s sea cow, which was also called the «cabbage eater» precisely because seaweed («sea cabbage» in Russian) was its main food.

Chances of success

One of the materials dedicated to this animal was an interview with the deputy director of the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Alexei Nikolaevich Tikhonov, in which it was stated that, unlike the mammoth, the Steller’s cow can be revived.

Beginning of work

After consulting with Alexei Nikolaevich and gaining an understanding of the various approaches and methodologies employed by scientists worldwide in the endeavor of reviving extinct species, we made the decision to launch an expedition to the Commander Islands. These islands served as the final refuge for the Steller’s sea cows, and the expedition, successfully carried out in August 2022, was organized accordingly.


With the support of the Commander Islands National Park, a substantial quantity of fresh paleobiological material was gathered. This material will be subject to the extraction of ancient DNA, enabling us to commence the analysis and assembly of genomes.

Despite the existence of a modern close relative of the sea cow, the dugong, the process of reviving the species is expected to take several decades. However, I would like to hope that the development of science will allow, if not us, then our children, to admire these giants, once again peacefully grazing off the Russian coast.


Scientific director
Alexei Tikhonov
The Steller’s sea cow is a relatively recently extinct species, so the chances of its revive are high. In case of its resurrection, it will have a place to live and something to eat in its natural habitat.

Leading researcher at the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, PhD in Biology, leading Russian specialist in the field of Quaternary paleontology, general paleoecology, mammoth fauna, archaeozoology. Scientific Secretary of the Committee for the Study of Mammoths and Mammoth Fauna at the Department of General Biology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Participant and leader of Russian and international scientific research projects — Russian Foundation for Basic Research, Russian Geographical Society, European Commission, National Geographic Society, Polarforsknings (Sweden), Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, etc. He has significant experience in the field of research into finds of extinct mammals, including their genetic analysis. The most significant articles on paleogenomics and other genetic research have been published in the journals: Nature, Science, PNAS, Genome Research, Scientific Reports, Genomics, Nature Communications and others.

Objectives and Goals

In this project I act as a zoologist, morphologist and partly as a paleontologist who specializes in the study of extinct species in historical and near-historical times.

The starting point for studying the material was the collection of remains in the zoological museum of the Zoological Institute, most of which we received from the collection of the Commander Islands National Park and the private collection of local scientist Sergei Fomin, a resident of the village of Nikolskoye on Bering Island.

However, the Steller’s sea cow viped out 250 years ago, so due to the climate of the coast of the Commander Islands, the source material for genetic research is not of the best quality.

My main interest is morphological. Together with specialists from the Research Center of Biotechnology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the European University at St. Petersburg and other scientific organizations, we are developing paleogenomics and paleogenetics for the benefit of Russian science. As a result, we obtained very interesting results. During the expedition to the Commander Islands, we managed to collect about 30 samples of bones and skulls of the Steller’s sea cow, from which we were able to isolate the mitochondrial genome.

Like any zoologist, I am interested in the development of a species, its biology. We have some descriptions by the naturalist Georg Steller, but formally we know practically nothing about this animal, therefore, while restoring the species itself, we are simultaneously restoring its way of life.

Zoologists of various profiles are faced with the task of conducting research based on the collections of museums in our country and other countries, the museum on the Commander Islands, as well as field research.

Over the past decades, paleogenetics has made progress thanks to new equipment, so we believe that success awaits us in our lifetime, at least at some intermediate stage.

It is for the purposes of paleogenetics and paleogenomics that the most advantageous material turned out to be bones, in particular the petrosal bone os petrosum from the hearing apparatus of mammals.

For more than 5 years we have been working with the Steller`s sea cow from a genetic point of view. The first samples were taken from museum material that has been stored there for 200 years, but now we have received more recent material in good preservation, from which we plan to collect up to 10 nuclear genomes. In parallel, morphological processing of the skulls and skeleton of the sea cow is underway.

Chances of success

The Steller’s sea cow is a relatively recently extinct species, so the chances of its de-extintion are high. In case of resurrection, it will have a place to live and something to eat in her natural habitat, just as it lived a couple of hundred years ago. According to Georg Steller’s descriptions, this is an absolutely domestic animal; it is not afraid of humans.

Ethical point of view

From an ethical point of view, I do not see any obstacles. Dugong cells are used without harming the animal. First of all, this is laboratory work in genetic laboratories. Our geneticists are considering various possibilities, including the creation of an artificial uterus.

For children

The Steller’s sea cow can be of great interest to children: a toothless giant sirenian that fed kelps, was friendly and defenseless. And we are reviving it, and there is a place for it to live. By following the project, children also will be able to learn about existing genetic methods.


Genetics team lead
Artem Nedoluzhko
This project can become a driving force for the development of Russian science, thanks to biotechnological innovations in the field of genome editing and maintaining obtained cell lines.

Artem Nedoluzhko is an evolutionary biologist who specializes in the genetics of ancient humans, animals and plants. He is a head of paleogenomics laboratory of the European University at St. Petersburg (Russia), where he moved from Nord University in Norway, PhD in Biology, specialist in the field of evolutionary genomics, paleogenomics and bioinformatics. Participant and principal investigator of Russian and international scientific research projects (Russian Science Foundation, Russian Foundation for Basic Research, European Research Council). He has significant experience in the field of genomics and bioinformatics. The most significant articles were published in the journals: Scientific Reports, Hydrobiologia, Genomics, Ecology and Evolution, PeerJ, Frontiers in Immunology, Aquaculture, Nature Communications.

World experience

The most famous project in the world using genome editing and embryonic technologies is the de-extinction of the woolly mammoth. Scientists are also currently working to restore the Tasmanian wolf, passenger pigeon, dodo bird and extinct rat.

Our initiative to revive the Steller’s sea cow is the first and only one in Russia. We chose this particular species of animal because we have a large amount of material — most of Steller’s sea cow bones are in Russia.


This project can become a driving force for the development of Russian science, thanks to biotechnological innovations in the field of genome editing and maintaining cell lines that will be obtained. Being a fundamental humanitarian project to restore an extinct species, it can also entail the development of the economy as a whole, increasing human resources, and the development of new biotechnological approaches necessary not only for aquaculture, agriculture and livestock farming, but also for the progressive development of humanity.


We have previously set aside 10 years for this, but under ideal conditions, which are unrealistic in our time.

First results

In August 2022, we went with Aleksei Kostin, Fedor Sharko and Alexei Tikhonov to the Commander Islands, where we met local scientists, employees of the Commander Islands National Park, and established connections with interested people.

During the expedition, material was collected from 31 sea cows.

Project team

The scientific team is represented by three participants from major Russian institutes: Alexei Nikolaevich Tikhonov from the Zoological Institute, Artem Nedoluzhko from the European Institute at St. Petersburg, Fedor Sharko from the Federal Research Center of Biotechnology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

  • Artem Nedoluzhko — evolutionary biologist with a deep experience in ancient DNA.
  • Fedor Sharko deals with all mathematics and bioinformatics, he analyzes genomes and changes in them.
  • Alexei Tikhonov is a zoologist, knows everything about extinct animal species.


It seems right to me to concentrate all the work from DNA extraction to the release of animals into the environment under the leadership of one organization that will collaborate with Russian academic institutions and Western partners and will be responsible for the result. The project will be connected not only with the state, but also with private financing. I also think it is important, within the framework of this project, to form a school of paleogenetics, molecular biology, cell biology and ecology. But not only.

Another important task is to increase the attractiveness of the Commander Islands region for tourism, thanks to such research. These efforts will allow the region to develop faster, creating jobs and new opportunities. Again, the opportunity for tourists to visit it will become cheaper, because now traveling to the Commander Islands is not a cheap undertaking.

We would really like to put the local reserve in order, to make it more attractive: to improve the museum, its collection and the conditions for storing the most valuable samples that are not found anywhere else in the world. We could develop special methods for searching for the remains of new Steller’s sea cows, be it molecular or physical methods — the project will allow us to develop in this direction.


Fedor Sharko
We were able to collect the remains of 31 different sea cows, from which ancient DNA was isolated. Thus, our team became the first in the world to assemble the genome of the Steller’s sea cow.

Researcher at the Research Center of Biotechnology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, General Director of ELGEN LLC. Specialist in the field of bioinformatics and big data, PhD in molecular biology. Participant of Russian scientific projects of the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, Russian Science Foundation and grants from the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation. He has significant experience in the analysis of genomic data and the development of web interfaces for their processing. The most significant articles were published in the journals: Genomics, Ecology and Evolution, PeerJ, Plos ONE, Aquaculture, Nature Communications.

My acquaintance with paleogenetics and biology dates back to the laboratory at the National Research Centre Kurchatov Institute, where we, in a team with Artem Nedoluzhko and Alexei Tikhonov, began work on studying the Steller’s sea cow genome.

In August 2022, we went on an expedition where we were able to collect the bone remains of 31 different animals. Of the bones selected for study, genetic scanning revealed the presence of ancient DNA. Thus, our team became the first in the world to assemble the genome of the Steller’s sea cow.

Steller’s sea cow is considered a native Russian species of animal, despite the fact that its habitat was not limited to the borders of our country. We do not consider this a resurrection, but rather the cultivation of a species closely related and similar to the one that existed.


Head of the National Park
Anastasia Kuznetsova
The Commander Islands are the last known habitat of the Steller sea cow. To date, we have managed to accumulate about 500 bones and their fragments.

Head of the Commander Islands National Park.

For more than 10 years, our park has been collecting paleontological and osteomaterial for various scientific purposes, including the study of various animals. We have our own osteological collection, which we are happy to share with scientists.

The Commander Islands are the last habitat known to us for the Steller`s sea cow, so we are currently collecting its remains — not only osteomaterials, but also comprehensive samples, thanks to which paleogeneticists can trace the state of ecosystems as a whole. To date, we have managed to accumulate more than 300 pieces of material on the Steller`s sea cow.

It would be right to revive the Steller’s sea cow here on Commander Islands, where was its last refuge and a wonderful habitat for it — in our park.

The specificity of the national park is not only the conservation of nature, but also the creation of conditions for its study, that is, for the work of various scientific groups.

We once had close contact with the international Steller community. In our park there is even a monument to Steller, which we ordered from the artist based on his collective portrait, because no authentic images of Steller survived during his lifetime.

Ethical point of view

The question remains open: is it possible to say unequivocally that it was the fault of human or, after all, evolutionarily this species was already in decline? There is no clear answer yet. We are talking about an animal that has disappeared, possibly due to human fault, so if humans can do something to try to restore it, then why not.

Educational mission

The majority of scientific projects worldwide often face the challenge of being solely focused on scientific aspects, thereby lacking accessibility for the general public. It is my strong desire for a highly captivating and impactful initiative like the revival of the Steller’s sea cow to undertake an educational mission, reaching out to not only experts but also those who are unfamiliar with the subject, including children. The aim is to make the process transparent, explain what a sea cow is, why its revival is important, and ultimately emphasize the significance of preserving live nature.

Through the prism of such communication, we could show the importance of the need to create and protect national parks, highlighting the fact that without these reserves and protected areas, achieving such remarkable results would be nearly impossible.

In our efforts, we are currently developing an educational lesson focused on the sea cow specifically designed for children. This initiative follows our successful creation of similar educational content on anturus and sea otters for teachers and educators in the Kamchatka Territory, with the generous support of the World Wildlife Fund, which garnered immense popularity among both children and adults.

Perhaps this project will allow us to discover something new not only outside, but also inside, something that we do not expect to see.



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