Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Search Challenge (1/28/15): Mapping the discovery of the sea cow and the jay

When I write these Search Challenges....
 I find that they mostly arise from questions that people ask me ("What's that wreck in the water?"), or interesting tidbits that I run across in my non-working life that intrigue me. 

The sadly extinct Steller's sea cow. Image from Wikimedia

One such intriguing tidbit I discovered recently is the Steller's sea cow, a large sirenian mammal that's now extinct.  I'd read something about that and wondered if it was somehow connected with the Steller's jay--a common jay in the forests near where I live.   

A non-extinct Steller's Jay.  Photo by Bill Walker

Could it be that these two very different animals are both named for the same person?  

Today's Challenge, like all good Challenges, comes in three parts. 

1.  Are these two animals named for the same person?  If so, who?  Whatever became of Steller?  
2.  I imagine that these animals were both discovered during an exploratory voyage of some kind.  Can you find out the name and organizer of the voyage that found both the Sea Cow and the jay?  
3.  Can you make a Google Map that shows the voyage of discovery wherein both a sea cow and a blue jay were found?  Ideally, your map would show the path the explorers took and have a couple of markers showing where both the sea cow and jay were discovered (as well as any other discoveries that might be significant).  

As an example, here's a map showing a portion of the Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin's famous trip around the world that gave him so much data and profoundly influenced his work on evolution.  

From Google Maps Gallery

This is a fun challenge full of great surprises.  (Or at least I learned a great deal of fascinating natural and social history in the process.)  It's not difficult, just really, really interesting.  

Search on! 


  1. Working on it. So far lots of fun, new knowledge and plenty of surprises!

    1. Good day, Dr. Russell, fellow SearchResearchers


      [Steller's sea cow AROUND(3) Steller's jay]
      Georg Wilhelm Steller

      Steller's Island: Adventures of a Pioneer Naturalist in Alaska By Dean Littlepage

      [Georg Steller]

      Sea Cow Britannica here learned that manatee is also sirenian and Vitus Bering was part of the travel in 1741 with Georg W. Steller.

      [Vitus Bering]

      [Vitus Bering around(3) georg steller]

      [bering travels stellar blue jay]

      Alaska's Heritage Bering's second expedition lands in Alaska.
      Steller's Sea Eagle
      10 hour expedition

      [bering travels steller sea cow]
      It is the first recorded example of humans driving a marine species to extinction.

      [bering steller discovery]

      Pbs Bering Island
      Georg Steller Site mentions:" Steller himself almost disappeared from history until Leonhard Stejneger, a Norwegian-American naturalist, went to Alaska in the late 19th Century in search of a possible surviving Steller’s sea cow. He did not find the mammal but he did find a life-long fascination with Steller and over the next five decades retraced Steller’s steps, explored his life, discovered his long-lost papers in Saint Petersburg and finally published the only biography of Steller in 1936."

      [second kamchatka expedition]


      1. Are these two animals named for the same person? If so, who? Whatever became of Steller?
      A. Yes, George Wilhelm Steller. Steller last years explored Siberia. Sites also mention that "his own journals did reach the Academy and were published after his death."

      2. I imagine that these animals were both discovered during an exploratory voyage of some kind. Can you find out the name and organizer of the voyage that found both the Sea Cow and the jay?
      Vitus Bering’s Second kamchatka expedition, later called "The Great Northern Expedition."

      3. Map, will work on it.

    2. Here is my first map. It is very basic one.

      Steller's Animals

    3. [vitus bering path 1741]

      The Vitus Bering expeditions. Google Earth Community, History illustrated. With the data, updated my map.

      Reading different sites, and yes, I lost the query. Found
      Vitus Bering Monument.

      Monument to Vitus Bering
      Port Petropavlovsk-Kamchatka Photo. Google Maps Near here is where monument is.

      [vitus bering monument coordinates]
      Panoramio more Vitus Bering monument, Bering Island. Clicking other pictures, we can see other monuments.

  2. Anne and I are back after taking a break during our winter break!
    So the two animals are indeed named for the same person, Georg Wilhelm Steller. We found this by doing a search for Stellers sea cow which led us to a wikipedia article on the sea cow, This article linked to an article about Steller which also provided more information on his discovery of these 2 creatures as well as several others. We verified this information by going to an article in the online edition of Britannica.
    We then found out more information about the voyage. It was known as the Second Kamchatka Expedition or also known as the Great Northern Expedition. Russian Emperor Peter the Great commissioned the voyage but it was implemented by the empresses Anna and Elizabeth. The captain and leader of this expedition was Vitus Bering for whom the Bering Sea is named.
    This is a very interesting story. At one point Capt. Bering wanted to continue sailing east but Steller insisted they sail northeast which had them making landfall in Alaska which is where he found these creatures. He also theorized that because the blue jay he found there (which later came to be known as Steller's Jay) was similar to other jays in north america and based on that he felt that they must be in North America. Really fascinating story about the "discovery" of Alaska which neither Anne nor I knew before today.
    Now on to work on the map.

  3. Disclaimer: I'm lazy and took a shortcut. Easy but very interesting challenge, indeed!

    Wikipedia's article "Steller's sea cow" names the biologist and pioneer who described and named both the Steller's jay and the Steller's sea cow. On Wikipedia's article "Georg Wilhelm Steller", I came to know that this happened during the Second Kamchatka expedition or "Great Northern Expedition" in the late 1730s and early 1740s.

    On the Wikipedia's article "Steller's jay" I followed the first source for the affirmation "This bird is named after the German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, the first European to record them in 1741." I landed on an online article in The Birds of North America Online, where I learned the jay was observed "off Kayak Island" on a "July day in 1741".

    I decided to look for Kayak Island on Google Earth, hoping to find the exact spot where the jay was observed already marked by someone in the Gallery.

    I found Tom Kjeldsen's post on the History Illustrated forum of Google Earth Community entitled Vitus Bering Expeditions, including a kmz with all the needed data.

    This is where I found the bay and the day the jay was spotted on. (17th July)

    Following the path of "2. expedition 1741 - Vitus Bering on the 'St. Peter'",

    Going back to the first Wikipedia article, I followed the linked source for the sentence claiming that the sea cow "was first described by Georg Wilhelm Steller, chief naturalist on an expedition led by explorer Vitus Bering", which is an article on Sirenian International. Thus I found it was found on Bering Island (and I read some more fabulous information).

    Back to Google Earth, the Vitus Bering Expedition path shows this place to be near present day Nikolskoye village, after 6th November, 1741.

  4. Here is my path so far

    I'm thinking I'm doing something wrong because I'm heading toward the same path that we took for Mark Twain. I found the text for Georg Steller's journal entries, but you said above this is not difficult. I'm currently go toward difficult, so I need to back up and take a different route.

    Welcome back Debbie and Anne!

    1. Hello Fred. I will work on my map tomorrow and meanwhile I found something similar to Dr. Russell's request, that can help us. [Bering travels]

  5. I went back and re-read the tasks at hand. Even though he wrote "Can you make a Google Map that shows the voyage of discovery wherein both a sea cow and a blue jay were found? ", my brain jumped to "(as well as any other discoveries that might be significant)" as the task.

    I'm pretty sure in my previous searches I read something about the Steller's sea cow population having been centered around a group of islands by the time of the expedition and something about which island he saw the jay on.

  6. So I took the kmz file that Luis posted. Converted in Google Earth to a kml. Then imported it into My Maps. Didn't go so well. You can see the results in link below.

    Then remembered we had a challenge or tip from Dr. Russell about using the site operator in Google Maps. Searched [ bering expedition ] Found something by following link to myreadingmapped.

    You can tell I strayed again away from making my own map to using something already made. {sigh}.

  7. Now to creating the map. Anne and I found this site, actually we were led here by Fred's post:
    This seems to be a very accurate map of Bering's expedition. We are going to try to upload it into our own map so that we can make changes and/or additions. We have never done this before so we'll see how this goes.

  8. Maps aren't our thing, but Anne and I were able to create a very basic map in my maps. We only showed 4 points - the starting and ending points (which were the same) and the place where Georg Steller first sighted the bird which was to called Steller's Jay, and the place where the sea cow was first observed. The map we posted earlier has so many more points and shows the journey in much more detail. The link to our map is here
    If we get more time (maybe another historic blizzard that wasn't leading to a snow day) we can add to it.

  9. I have posted twice and not sure what has happened. I have created a map but I wont send again. This is a test to see if I can get something posted. I don't like to repost when the post may still show up.

  10. Here's my quick answer. Dr. Steller was a naturalist that joined Captain Bering's second expedition in 1741 to search out the northern seas off the coast of Alaska. I have gathered details of various stops along the way. This map has "anchor" icons (giving my research)giving source of information and some details about the specific location that I was adding one by one. The "sailing boat" icons are from data presented earlier which I put into Fusion, converted and then combined with my results to give this preliminary map. I think having the source and details about each icon is far more interesting. I know this is a quick response and I will come back when I have some more time later today.

  11. Thanks everybody for the extensive research and detailed answers.

    I found another intriguing fact: according to Wikipedia there are no portraits/pictures of Steller: “Georg Steller, of whom no portrait is known to exist.

    On the website of the Internationale Georg-Wilhelm-Steller-Gesellschaft ( I found:
    Von Steller, der 1746 im sibirischen Tjumen’ starb, ist weder ein Porträt noch ein Grab überliefert. Allein eine Zeichnung gibt es, von der vermutet werden darf, dass diese Steller zeigt: mit nacktem Oberkörper und welligem Haar.
    (Of Steller, who died in 1746 in the Siberian Tjumen, neither a portrait nor a grave is preserved. There is only a drawing, that may be suspected of showing Steller shirtless and with wavy hair.)

    There is a portrait of Steller on but in the comments you can read: the above shown portrait could be Adalbert von Chamisso, a member of the Kamchatka-Expedition with Kotzebue under Krusenstern. See also , and

    Another claimed portrait of Steller here: is probably a portrait of Vitus Pedersen Bering, a poet and uncle of seafarer Vitus Jonassen Bering: see and and

    1. nice research/observation Hans… goes to the veracity of what is found on the net.
      I wasn't even able to find an image of his widow, Brigitta Messerschmidt…
      but I did find an unconfirmed variant of Steller's Elder -- a Canadian specimen? of Beasts of the Sea (De Bestiis Marinis)
      the Polysticta stelleri canuckus bieberassti
      (needed a wee bit of comic relief from the arduous mapping task, fortunately, in cyber territory, no one died like on the Great Northern Expedition)

    2. Hans As Remmij mentions great observation. In the challenge found Monument and St. Peter replica Site has a picture and now with your link now that he is not that one.

      I am sure that Remmij liked a lot the Pallas Cat and also, as well as I do, enjoy the work of Peter Simon Pallas.

  12. Ramón April 9, 1907
    …like the Varicorhinus brucii illustration on p.306 and these the care of looking & recording comes through…
    alas, science cuts multiple ways…On English Domestic Cats

    1. Nice finds, Remmij. How did you find the April 9, 1907 article? (I know what it is--I just want to understand the path you followed to get there.)

    2. Hi Dan, fairly direct, working off Ramón's comment (was pretty sure he wasn't going in this direction: inauspicious beginning for a Giant) —
      moved on to Peter Simon, then to Wikipedia on Pallas Cat &
      to Taxonomic history > Pocock and then back to the link in the Pallas Cat page [References #25] … almost always some gems
      in the References and/or External links. Hope that answers the question.
      … was wondering - will there be tales of Oaxaca in the future?

      Ramón, where did you come up with the Pallas reference? near where Steller died? or just researching the polymath, Pallas - liked this look looking back (video) and some infobits on Pallas cats.

    3. Thanks Remmij I liked a lot the information, the photos and the date of it. Thanks for sharing.

      Out of topic. I am reading about clouds classification history. It is very interesting. I am sure that Dr. Russell someday can make with clouds a greats SearchResearch Challenge

    4. Hi Remmij.

      I found about Pallas in the link that Hans provided The Natural World. Because it was interesting and also because with cats remember your posts, searched more about it. I wanted to learn more about Peter Simon and if he truly published Steller's Journals. Tried for example [Pallas around(3) Georg Steller] [ "Peter Simon Pallas"] [Pallas Georg Steller journals] and because Russia was named a lot, then posted that link.

    5. Ramón [maybe Dan too…] - after reading a bit about Pallas's Siberian expeditions, thought you might be interested in these, if you haven't already seen… north/south, east/west, Siberia is a formidable puzzle on many levels…as centuries of crossings reveal… apologize for all the links…big subject; just a small surface scratch…sigh.
      The Way Back
      someone using MyMaps
      The Long Walk?
      Outside:Miserable, Beautiful Siberia
      Lena - made an impression when I first read in 2005 (mini search to recall/find the article)
      a more genteel way to peek
      on the Yenisei River
      5 years later
      Yenisei - south>north to the Arctic (along with Lena & Ob)
      wiki Lena

      btw & fwiw - Ramón, remember these? Dan's had his head in the clouds before… ;-)
      searching searchResearch for clouds
      clouds from both sides…Joni

    6. thanks Ramón (and Hans) I had missed that… failure to read/follow completely… a mistake I make too often…
      wonder if the PC would like living at NORAD?
      Cheyenne Mountain
      often surprised by twitter users

  13. …a small respite from Siberia and clouds - wot
    as my brother in Shanghai might say: onward & upward…
    (a counter to my general serpentine approach)
    related from the above: 6:10 in, Ozymandias
    Cranston reading, 1:10 well done

    too funny, WuMo

    1. Hello Remmij.

      Yes of course I remember clouds challenge. It was amazing. Thanks for the links you share. I still need to visit many of them and the ones I have visited are very interesting. Pallas Cat looks great and Smithsonian Magazine article is super cool. The Dam article, I never knew that happened.

      Sharing some links about SearchChallenges:

      I think you will like this in special THE PEARL OF SIBERIA -VISITING THE CRYSTALLINE HEART OF LAKE BAIKAL. By the way is great that you have a brother in Shanghai.

      Dan Barber: How I fell in love with a fish I wonder what is the ratio in plantings California?

      Great day!