Bering Island (Beringa, in Russian) is the largest of the Russian Komandorski Ostrova (Commander Islands), being 55 miles (90 kilometres) at its longest point, and 15 miles (20 kilometres) at its widest. It is also notable as the westernmost of the Aleutians.
Like the rest of the Komandorskis, Beringa is volcanic in origin. It is hilly — and throughout the summer, verdant and lively, despite its northern situation. Beringa has few permanent animal residents, especially among land animals (though the arctic fox and various rodents, as well as introduced reindeer are among that few) and birds, but from April nearly through November, it is alive with seals, sea lions, sea otters, and even sea cows, as well as with numerous colonies of gull, guillemot, puffin, and cormorant.
The island itself is entirely tundra, but warms enough for seasonal heaths, heathers, and berries — as well as great numbers of mushrooms — and even the occasional tundra-dwarfed birch or aspen. However, at its warmest, Beringa rarely sees temperatures greater than 55 F (12 C); and even then, inclement weather and cold fronts are frequent.
One of the most intriguing biological features of Beringa is the sockeye salmon spawning ground of Sarannoye Lake. While many salmon species fill Beringa's waterways from June through October, Sarannoe Lake, during July, August, and September is impressive as the destination for thousands of sockeyes.
Despite its rugged conditions, Beringa actually has a single village of eight hundred, Nikolskoye, the only permanent settlement in the entire Komandorski Ostrova. Access to the Beringa and the surrounding islands is via helicopter or airplane to the Nikolskoye Airport — ship and boat are now rarely used, mostly due to weather.
The people of Beringa (Russian and Aleut) are supported by the local fisheries and wild produce, especially in export of salmon caviar and mushrooms. It is not self-supporting, though, and government services and subsidies play a large role in the local economy. The population is declining (1,358 in 1989 down to 808 in 2002), due to both emigration and low birth rate.
Beringa takes its name from Vitus Bering, a Danish navigator on the Russian Navy's Great Northern Expedition of the 1730s and 1740s. The discovery took place in a Kamchatkan colonial voyage commenced in 1740.
After the establishment of the settlement Petropavlovsk (really more of a "dropping-off" of the settlers and their supplies), Bering and his two ships, the Sviatoi Piotr (Saint Peter) and the Sviatoi Pavel (Saint Paul), struck for North America. After a landing on or near Kayak Island, violent weather compelled Bering's ship (the Sv. Piotr) to attempt a return.
However, scurvy gave the crew difficulties, slaying one crew member and sickening Bering. Eventually, his illness became so great that the crew were forced to put in at an uninhabited island in the Komandorskis. By that time, much of the crew had scurvy as well, and when Bering died early on the nineteenth of December, 1741, twenty-eight of his crew followed him the same day.
The ship was wrecked shortly out of Beringa, and the single remaining carpenter (one S. Starodubtsev), along with the much-reduced crew, managed to construct a new, much smaller vessel out of the wreckage (likewise christened) for the voyage home. At long last, the Sv. Piotr returned to port, its final loss to scurvy occurring a single day before docking.
Interestingly, the new Sv. Piotr survived another twelve years of regular service between Kamchatka and Okhotsk, and Starodubtsev, its shipwright, was decorated and designed and oversaw the construction of several other naval vessels.