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Sea Ape Legend Descended From a Probable Seal Sighting

Hey, it's hard to describe a creature you've never seen before!

Have you heard of Steller’s sea ape? This creature was first described by, you guessed it, Georg Steller. He journeyed from Russia to Alaska on an expedition to discover new species. While he and the crew were exploring a small set of islands off the North American coast they described seeing a creature that was about five feet long, covered with fur, and with a head like a dog with drooping whiskers, and an elongated body that ended in something like a shark’s fin. They said the sea ape was curious and playful, hanging around the ship for about two hours.  

The crew reported the unknown creature would swim close enough to reach but if anybody approached to try it would swim away. Being unable to capture it, they tried to shoot it because of course they did. Deciding these humans were more trouble than they were worth, the creature swam away and did not return.

Modern readers may realize “puppy-like face and a fur coat” is an excellent description of a fur seal, however Georg really liked to name things after himself and is also credited with discovery of Steller’s jay, Steller’s sea eagle, Steller’s sea cow, and Steller’s sea lion, among others. It seems unlikely he would have failed to note the similarities between the sea lion, sea cow, and a seal. This has led some people to believe in the “aquatic ape theory” that claims mermaids are an aquatic relative and evidence of a “missing link” despite the fact that we don’t have evidence of mermaids either. 

There is still room for doubt about what Georg saw that he said resembled a sea ape, as it could be a now extinct species. Of the six species he definitely discovered two are extinct and three are endangered. That makes it likely if he did find another unknown animal that it very likely could have already been near extinction. The sea cow was declared extinct a mere twenty-seven years after its discovery.

Much of Steller’s crew became ill with scurvy and nearly half did not survive. Georg did his best to treat them with gathered leaves and berries, seeming to understand the relation to nutritional deficit but his remedies were largely scorned. Steller and his assistant were of the very few who did not show symptoms of the ailment.

Despite Steller’s propensity for self-referential naming of species, you can rest assured he is not responsible for the Spiders Georg meme

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