GE­ORG STELLER’S LAST­ING LEGACY

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Commander Islands -

The nat­u­ral­ist who dis­cov­ered Steller’s sea cow was born Ge­org Wil­helm Stöller in Wind­heim, Ger­many, in 1709, and moved to Rus­sia in 1734. Join­ing Ber­ing’s Great North­ern Ex­pe­di­tion in 1740, he dis­cov­ered sev­eral new species, in­clud­ing Steller’s sea lion, Steller’s ei­der ( be­low), Steller’s sea ea­gle, Steller’s jay and the spec­ta­cled cor­morant, as well as the fa­mous sea cow. His nav­i­ga­tional skills proved crit­i­cal in find­ingng Alaska, where he be­came thee first non-na­tive to set foot, whileile his sci­en­tific knowl­edge en­abled­abled his com­pan­ions aboard the St Pe­ter to es­cape scurvyy by feed­ing on thee vi­ta­min C-richh leaves and berries he’d gath­ered – though many ig­nored this ad­vice and over half the crew per­ished from this con­di­tion. Steller was also no­tably ahead of his time in the re­spect he showed to­wards the na­tive peo­ples that the ex­pe­di­tion en­coun­tered, whose cul­tures he rig­or­ously doc­u­mented. In­deed, his sym­pa­thy for the na­tive Kam­chatkans dur­ing his sub­se­quent trav­els led to his im­pris­on­ment, ac­cused of fo­ment­ing re­bre­bel­lion. He died of a fever on 14 NoNovem­ber 1746, at the age of justjus 37, while trav­el­ling back to St Peters­burg. Af­ter hhis death, Cap­tain James Cook was amon­a­mong many ex­p­ex­plor­ers to use his notes and jo­jour­nals.

Steller found the sea cow ( left) and it helped keep him alive.

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