Look Closer . . . St. George Island, Pribilofs
Bering Sea sets a banquet table
seabirds and fur seals
"Galapagos of the North"
An Awesome Sight
yourself against the wind and look over the soaring cliffs of the island to see
"uncountable" birds in the air, on rocky ledges, and in the water below.
More than two million seabirds nest on St. George Island. (Another quarter million
nest on nearby St. Paul and Otter islands in the Pribilof group.) The beaches
echo with the roar of nearly one million northern fur seals, as bulls fight over
territories and cows give birth or feed new pups.
Pribilof Seabird Dozen
All the worlds red-legged kittiwakes nest in only
four locations in the Bering Sea. They nest here in the Pribilofs, on two islands
in the Aleutians (Bogoslof and Buldir), and in Russia on the Commander Islands
(just west of the Aleutians). The colony on St. George used to be the biggest
and healthiest with almost 80% (222,000) of all the worlds red-legged kittiwakes.
Lately the colony is shrinking, and the refuge is trying to learn why. Learn
Dining on the Edge
The contours of the sea floor
near the Pribilofs hold the secret to the islands biological wealth. The
shallow continental shelf breaks to plunge a mile down into deep ocean. Here currents
tumble and rise, mixing all sorts of nutrients needed to fuel marine food chains.
The islands varied seabird species, all with different food choices and
eating habits, can find what they need within flying distance from their nests.
fur seals roam farther from the islands. They chase small schools of pollock and
squid 60 to 100 miles (100 to 160 km) offshore. Some seals remain hunting at sea
for 4 to 10 days before returning to feed their pups.
Nowhere Else in
On the other end of the size scale from the 600-pound fur
seal bulls, the tiny Pribilof shrew (weighing no more than a few paperclips) lives
nowhere else in the world but on these islands.
moved to the Pribilofs on their own, without help from fur farmers. New arrivals
can come from the mainland any time the winter pack ice pushes beyond its normal
limits and surrounds the Pribilofs.
Rats - Worse than Oil Spills
lines have been drawn in the Pribilofs. "No rats allowed" say the local
residents, and refuge staff are working to keep the Pribilofs rat free. Development
of harbors on the islands and increased ship traffic nearby raises the risk of
rats escaping from infested cargoes or from shipwrecks. Once ashore, rats would
decimate nesting seabirds and be virtually impossible to remove. You
can help in the fight against rats
History of Shame ... and Survival
ancestors of the current Aleut residents were brought here like slaves to harvest
fur seals, first in 1787 for Russian fur traders and then for the American government
after purchase of Alaska in 1867. During the Japanese invasion of Alaska in 1942,
the Pribilovians were sent to live in abandoned canneries and mines in Southeast
Alaska and not allowed to return except for seal harvests until 1944. They were
finally granted the right to own their own homes in 1966.
George and St. Paul visitors to show off the Pribilofs seabirds and fur
seals and to tell their story of their history and culture. Both islands have
airports, tourist facilities, and some roads. Visitor
Notes on other Bering Sea Refuge lands
Paul Island - twin of St. George, 12 miles away. The islanders developed a
harbor and facilities for commercial fishing when their original industry, government
harvest of the fur seals, ended in 1983. The seabird cliffs were purchased in
1982 for addition to the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Visitor
St. Matthew Island (and Hall and Pinnacle islands)
- An Official Wilderness Area since 1970, the islands seabird colonies rival
these of the Pribilofs. Walrus come ashore to rest. Polar bears once lived here
year-round until explorers shot the last by 1899. President Teddy Roosevelt named
these islands the Bering Sea Refuge in 1909. This is the most remote
location in all of Alaska.
Last updated:September 8, 2008