Sunday, April 29, 2012

Georg Steller

If you are a frequent reader of Animal a Day, you'll recognize today's featured naturalist. That is because, in the past, we've featured several of the different animals species that were named after him! Hmm... just doing a quick search we have:
So if those animal names didn't give it away already, Georg Wilhelm Steller was a naturalist and explorer who that did his work while on Ocean Expeditions.
No images of Steller exist. So let's look at a drawing
he did of Sea Otters!

Steller was born near Nuremburg Germany in 1709, and was later educated at the University of Wittenburg. Though he was German by birth, he moved to Russia in 1734, and it is with Russian expeditions that he did his major studies.

After finding work at Saint Petersburg's Academy of Sciences, Steller joined Vitus Bering's expedition to the ocean east of Siberia in 1740. Bering himself may also sound familiar- the strait between Russia and Alaska bears his name! 

In July 1741 the expedition arrived in Alaska, and Steller became the first non-native to set foot upon Alaskan soil. Bering wanted only to stop and refill water, so he gave the naturalist only 10 hours to explore, but during that time he discovered a bird known as Steller's Jay (pretty much the only Steller's animal we haven't talked about here yet, go figure). He deduced that the bird was a close relative to the Blue Jay, which suggested that Alaska and the rest of North America were joined together.

On the way back to Russia the expedition was shipwrecked on a piece of land that would eventually be named Bering Island. Bering himself died on this island, along with several members of the crew who succumbed to Scurvy. The remaining crew hunted the local fauna, and worked on rebuilding a ship that would take them home. Among the animals consumed were the Steller's Sea Cows, massive relatives to the Manatees that were up to 30ft long. Steller discovered several other species during that year on the island, including his namesake Sea Lion, Eider, and a cryptid only he claims to have observed called the Steller's Sea Ape.

The expedition eventually made it off Bering Island, though only 46 of the original 78 remained. After arriving back in Russia, Georg Steller spent the next few years traveling throughout Siberia, collecting plants and animals and writing extensive journals. Unfortunately, his life was cut short. In 1746, on a trip from Siberia back to St. Petersburg, he contracted a fever and died at the age of 37. Though he never published a single paper in his lifetime, his journals did make it to Saint Petersburg where they were used by other scientists and explorers.

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