Who was this Steller guy?

We recently hid a Steller’s Jay on our website. Part of a contest, but that’s a different story. It got us thinking: Where’d this cool black and blue bird get its name?

When my wife looks over my shoulder at me typing “Steller’s Jay” she asks if I’m spelling it right. Gotta admit, it looks wrong, like it should be Stellar.

But no. Steller’s Jays are named for, and by Georg Wilhelm Steller. (Georg looks wrong too. Shouldn’t it be spelled George? Answer: no). This guy was a naturalist who lived in the 1700s. In addition to the Jay, he discovered and named the Steller’s Sea Eagle, Steller’s Sea Lion, Steller’s Sea Cow and Steller’s Eider.

They say he was the first European to step foot in Alaska, although it wasn’t called Alaska at the time. There’s also a story, if you believe it, that he reported seeing a “sea ape” in the waters near Alaska.

Nobody could verify this. His description makes it sound like a kind of furry otter or seal. It’s interesting to think it was some crypto zoological oddity that was ape-like. If it had been discovered it would probably go on the Steller list: “Steller Sea Ape.”

Steller was shipwrecked on an island near Alaska. Most of the sailors with him died and their camp was bothered by Arctic Foxes. He kept busy over the winter by studying animals and plants on the island, later named Bering Island.

Maybe his interest in these things helped him survive. In any case, he got famous for his discoveries. Not sure if famous is the right word. But he did get to put his name on some species of wildlife, and we use it a lot, all these years later.

I used it here when talking about the Steller’s Jay. If you see this Jay, you’ll use it, too. Steller. Not stellar. But his two-fisted accomplishments make either word work okay.

One Response to “Who was this Steller guy?”

  1. Vic Kryston says:

    Good to know. At least he didn’t have the unfortunate association that poor old John Crapper had with his invention.