Many of the members of the crew of the boat that he was on were coming down with scurvy, and Steller attempted to cull the growing epidemic by feeding berries and leaves to the crew. No one really heeded his advice, which was why, on the returning journey, they all became shipwrecked, as only 12 crew members were actually able to physically move. During the voyage almost half of the crew had died due to scurvy, and many, including the captain, died following the shipwreck. With very little food and water, the survivors created a camp, suffering frequent raids by the arctic fox, which only served to increase their peril.
Nevertheless, Steller, apparently the stoic type, continued to learn more about the natural world of Alaska. He recorded a good deal of information in regards to the Steller's sea cow (a relative of the manatee), which, as a species, only survived about 25 years after Steller first discovered them. Other animals that he discovered, described, or both include the Steller's eider (a type of duck), the spectacled cormorant (like the sea cow, now extinct), the sea otter, Steller's sea lion, and the northern fur seal.
In 1742, the survivors were eventually able to build a new boat from the salvage, and returned to Avacha Bay in Russia. Steller continued to explore the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia for the next two years, but died in 1746 in transit to St. Petersburg.
One final thing that I find interesting about Steller has to do with the post-mortem publication of his journals. They were published by the German zoologist and biologist Peter Simon Pallas who, you guessed it, is the namesake of the Pallas cat, or Pallas's cat, who was the first person to describe the animal in 1776. These journals proved to be useful to other explorers of the same region such as Captain Cook.
|An excellent picture that I took of the Pallas cat (if I do say so myself) from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo|