At 90 kilometers (56 mi) long by 24 kilometers (15 mi) wide, it is the largest and westernmost of the Commander Islands, with an area of 1,660 square kilometers (640 sq mi). Most of Bering island and several of the smaller islands in their entirety are now part of the Komandorsky Zapovednik nature preserve.
Known as the "hidden Jewel of the U.S.-Russia Maritime Boundary," Bering Island is treeless, desolate and experiences severe weather, including high winds, persistent fog and earthquakes. It had no year-round human residents until roughly 1826. Now, the village of Nikolskoye is home to 800 people, roughly three hundred of them identifying as Aleuts. The island's scant population is involved mostly in fishing.
In 1741 Commander Vitus Bering, sailing in Svyatoy Pyotr (St. Peter) for the Russian Navy, was shipwrecked and died of scurvy on Bering Island, along with 28 of his men. His ship had been destroyed by storms as they returned from an expedition that discovered mainland Alaska as well as the Aleutian Islands. The survivors under the command of the Swedish born lieutenant Sven Waxell were stranded on the island for 10 months, and managed to survive by killing seals and birds. They were able to build a boat out of their stranded wreck and managed to return to Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula in 1742 with sea otter furs and preserved meat from the newly discovered island.
Another of the expedition's survivors was Georg Wilhelm Steller, who eventually managed to convince his companions to eat seaweed (thus curing their scurvy). Steller explored Bering island and cataloged its fauna, including Steller's sea cow, which became extinct within three decades due to being hunted for its meat. The island's highest point (2,464 feet (751 m)) is now named to honor the German-born naturalist. Upon returning to the Russian mainland, Steller then explored the Kamchatka peninsula and ultimately published De Bestiis Marinis (‘On the Beasts of the Sea’). However, his sympathies for the native peoples led to accusations that he was fomenting rebellion, so he was imprisoned and recalled to St. Petersburg, dying en route at age 37, although his diaries were later published to great acclaim and historic significance.