Georg Wilhelm Steller

If you have heard of such creatures as Steller’s Eider, Steller’s Sea Eagle and the sadly extinct Steller’s Sea Cow, you may wonder who the ‘Steller’ behind these fabulous animals was!

Georg Wilhelm Steller was a German born zoologist and botanist. He was born in Windsheim, Bavaria in 1709 and died in 1746 at Tyumen in Russia. In September 1740, Georg joined an expedition that sailed to the Kamchatka Peninsula with Bering and his two expeditionary vessels sailing around the peninsula’s south tip and up to Avacha Bay on the Pacific coast.

Steller landed on the east coast of Kamchatka an spent the winter in Bolsherechye. Here he helped to organise a local school and began exploring Kamchatka. Bering summoned him to join his voyage to search for America and the strait between the two continents, serving in the role of scientist and physician. Georg crossed the peninsula by dog sled. After Bering’s St. Peter was separated from its sister ship (the St. Paul) in a storm, Bering continued to sail east (expecting to find land). Georg, reading sea currents and flotsam and wildlife, insisted they should sail northeast. After considerable time lost, they turned northeast and made landfall in Alaska at Kayak Island on Monday 20 July 1741. Bering wanted to stay only long enough to take on fresh water. Steller argued Captain Bering into giving him more time for land exploration and was granted 10 hours.

Georg Steller is credited with being the first non-native to have set foot upon Alaskan soil. On a remarkable journey, Georg became the first European naturalist to describe a number of North American plants and animals, including a jay later named Steller’s jay.

Of the six species of birds and mammals that Steller discovered during the voyage, unfortunately two are extinct (Steller’s sea cow and the Spectacled cormorant) and three are endangered or in severe decline (Steller’s sea lion, Steller’s eiderand Steller’s sea eagle). The sea cow, in particular, a massive northern relative of the dugong, lasted only 27 years after Georg discovered and named it, a limited population that quickly became victim of overhunting by the Russian crews that followed in Bering’s wake

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