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Aleutians & Bering Sea Isles
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Aleutians & Bering Sea Isles

Introduction

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge

False Pass

Akutan

Unalaska / Dutch Harbor

Adak

Other Aleutian Islands

Pribilof Islands

Saint Lawrence Island


Introduction

Few residents or visitors venture out beyond the Kenai Peninsula. Fewer still travel west of Kodiak Island and the Alaska Peninsula. Those who do are in for a special treat—the chance to experience rugged, barren lands exposed to the full brunt of Pacific Ocean weather. Though it rains more in the Southeast and gets much colder inland, the Aleutians offer the wildest of conditions.

Fifty-seven volcanoes are found throughout the islands, many of them active and 13 over 5,000 feet in elevation. The Alaska Volcano Observatory monitors conditions throughout the southwest (great website at www.avo.alaska.edu). The islands are really the peaks of a submerged mountain chain, a continuation of the Alaska Range and the Aleutian Range of the Alaska Peninsula.

The Aleutians experience a cool, moderated maritime climate with little variation between average high and low temperatures. Drizzly, misty conditions are common as wet clouds blow through on a collision course with the mainland. Perhaps the most dominating feature is the wind. It can seem to blow continuously, often with fast moving storms, squalls, rainbows, and sunsets along for the ride.

The islands and their surrounding waters feature an abundance of wildlife. Numerous seabird rookeries are found on isolated

cliffs and islets. Sea lions and harbor seals gather on isolated beaches and tidal zone rocks. Sea otters are relatively abundant, particularly from Adak to Kiska, and whales and porpoises are common. The islands were originally free of mammals, but reindeer, caribou, and arctic fox have been introduced in some locations and thrive on the abundant food supply—as do some sheep and cattle. A grassland and tundra mix of grasses, sedges, lichens, mosses, and heath covers the islands. There are no trees to be found.

Of the 20,000 or so Aleuts who once lived throughout the chain, fewer than 1,000 survived the violence, slavery, and disease brought by the Russians. Today, Aleut settlements exist only on Atka, Umnak, Unalaska, Akutan, and Unimak Islands. These, along with the military and Coast Guard bases on Shemya, Adak, and Attu, are the only established settlements on the hundreds of Aleutian Islands.

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