The Pribilof Islands
(often called the Fur Seal Islands
) are a group of four volcanic islands
, part of the US
state of Alaska
, lying in the Bering Sea
, about 200 miles (320 km) north of Unalaska
and 200 miles south of Cape Newenham
, the nearest point on the North American
mainland. The Siberian
coast is roughly 500 miles (800 km) away. About 200 km²
(80 sq mi
) in total area, they are mostly rocky, covered with meadow and tundra
, and support a human population
of 684 (2000 census
), concentrated in the towns
of St. Paul
and St. George
, each on an island of the same name.
The principal islands are St. Paul
(named from St. Peter and St. Paul's Day, on which it was discovered) and St. George
(probably named after Pribilof's ship). The Otter
islets are near St. Paul. The total land area of all the islands is 194.436 km² (75.072 sq mi). The islands are part of the Bering Sea unit of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
The islands were noted in 1767 and visited in 1788 by Gavriil Pribilof, who discovered the fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) rookeries for which they became famous. From Russia, the islands passed with Alaska to the United States in 1867. From 1870 to 1890, the United States government leased the islands to the Alaska Commercial Company. From 1890 through 1910, the North American Commercial Company held the monopoly on seal-hunting on the islands, but the industry shrank considerably owing to pelagic sealing.
The North Pacific Fur Seal Convention of 1911 was signed by Canada, Japan, Russia and the United States which further restricted hunting in the area. Under the Fur Seal Act of 1966, hunting of these seals is forbidden in the Pribilof Islands with the exception of subsistence hunting by Indians, Aleuts, and Inuit who live on the islands.
Seal Island Historic District
The buildings on St George and St Paul related to the hunting of the Northern Fur Seal make up the National Historic Landmark
District. Unfortunately, the buildings are in poor shape and are under threat of demolition.
Today, the City of Saint Paul, located on St. Paul Island
, has a population of 532 (2000 census). The economy is heavily dependent on the annual opilio ("snow crab
") fishery, and also on subsistence and commercial halibut
harvests. Marine support services to the various commercial fleets plying the waters of the Bering Sea also contributes to the economy
. The balance of economic activity on the island is government activity. The United States Coast Guard
maintains a base and LORAN-C
Master station on St. Paul. The National Weather Service
maintains a station on the island, and NOAA
maintains a significant presence there as well.
St. George, on St. George Island, has a smaller population of 152. The economy is similar to that of St Paul. Many of the residents of the islands are related. The islands are home to a majority of Alaska's Aleut population.
The Pribilof Islands are widely known as a birdwatching paradise, home to many birds that do not occur in North America beyond Alaska. Over 240 different species of birds have been identified there, and an estimated two million seabirds nest there annually. St. Paul, especially, is popular with birdwatchers, having a high cliff wall, known as Ridge Wall, above the Bering Sea.