So who was Steller’s anyway?
Regular visitors to this website, Birdingfrontiers and Biotope will of course be aware of my early spring trip to Arctic Norway. One of the highlights was seeing the unquestionably enigmatic Steller’s Eider. This species has been one of my dream birds for as long as I can remember. I never really imagined I would actually see one, let alone hundreds! Gullfest 2012 gave me this opportunity! You can’t beat waking up in the morning and glancing out of your hotel window to see this delightfully gorgeous species roosting on the beach.
I certainly feel very lucky. I could only describe seeing this species as emotional!
Having been home from my trip for a few months now, my pondering has kicked it. I am a bit of a frustrated explorer and I often dream of what it must have been like for those early explorers when they discovered a new species (especially one as beautiful as the Steller’s Eider)! So my pondering led me to the question ‘Who was Steller’s anyway’?
Steller’s or to be more accurate was Georg Wilhelm Steller was a German zoologist, botanist, physician and of course explorer. He was born in Windsheim in 1709. Steller travelled to Russia where he became acquainted with the naturalist Daniel Gottlieb Messerschmidt. In fact a few years after the death of Messerschmidt, Steller married his widow!
Steller travelled to the Kamchatka Peninsula on Vitus Bering’s second voyage to the area, Steller was obviously a conscientious explorer as he helped set up a school at Bolsherechye. Next Steller travelled to America with Bering. They travelled to Alaska where Steller discovered many new species of plant and animal. The return journey to Kamchatka surely tried the character of Steller as reports suggest that he was chastised and rideculed for much of the trip. However the ship wrecked onto what would later be named as Bering Island (in honour of Vitus Bering). Vitus Baring became very ill and died (scurvy also claimed the life of nearly half of the crew), leaving Steller to step up to the mark and become leader. During their time on Bering Island, Steller studies the islands flora and fauna in great detail. Steller was surely instrumental in the survival of the 46 of the original 78 crew members through the very tough northern winter. During the following summer repairs to the boat were successful and they made the journey back to Kamchatka .
Georg Wilhelm Steller has the following species named after him:
- Steller’s Eider (Polysticta stelleri)
- Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)
- Steller’s Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus)
- Steller’s sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas)
- Steller’s sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus)
- Gumboot chiton (Cryptochiton stelleri)
- Hoary Mugwort (Artemisia stelleriana)
- Stellera L. (Thymelaeaceae)
I would love to have met Steller, he sounds as if he would have been as enigmatic as the eider that is named after him!