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September 1, 2009

A ‘Steller’ Guy


I was going to bed last night and I flipped on the Discovery Channel to find a show called Nature’s Most Amazing Events: Pacific Feast . It was a documentary on the marine life of the northern Pacific and the ins and outs of how they chow down.When I tuned in, a group of Orcas (not sure if it was enough to constitute Pod status) were ramming and injuring a sea lion. The poor guy didn’t have a chance. So it goes in nature.Normally, I wouldn’t have blinked twice, but then I heard the narrator say the particular species of sea lion in peril: the Steller’s Sea Lion . The name “Steller” rang a bell with me, as it likely does with you. I recalled a conversation I had with my biology professor in college where I was telling him about a Thunderbird spotting in Alaska and he rebuffed me, saying it was probably just a Steller’s Eagle .It made me wonder — who was this Steller guy anyhow? Well, it turns out Georg Steller was a German biologist that made a name for himself by describing the flora and fauna of the Northern Pacific region from Russia to Alaska. He was even shipwrecked on Bering Island in 1741. Rather than go all Swiss Family Robinson, he continued his mission and cataloged all the plants and animals that he could find, and he even gave us the only description of the soon to be extinct (it lasted only three decades after discovery by Europeans) Steller’s Sea Cow .A handful of species were named after the naturalist, including the ill-begotten sea lion that sent me on my internet research quest. I also found myself looking at this list of extinct species , much to my chagrin. All in all, Steller had a pretty important impact in the exploration of the Northern Pacific, even if he also claimed to have seen the famed cryptid, the Steller’s Sea Ape . Everyone has off days.You would be amazed what you can learn on this “internet” contraption.