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Aleutians & Bering Sea Isles
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Aleutians & Bering Sea Isles


Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge

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Unalaska / Dutch Harbor


Other Aleutian Islands

Pribilof Islands

Saint Lawrence Island

Pribilof Islands

Location/Climate: 750 miles west of Anchorage. Saint Paul 25"/yr. precip., 56"/yr. snowfall, 19°F–51°F. Saint George 23"/yr. precip., 57"/yr. snowfall, 24°F–52°F.

Population: Saint Paul 767 (66.1 percent native, mainly Aleut), Saint George 195 (94.9percent native, mainly Aleut).

Travel Attractions: Saint Paul, wildlife viewing (fur seals, sea birds). Saint George, very little.

Getting There: Scheduled air service from Anchorage.

Information: City of Saint Paul, P.O. Box 901, Saint Paul Island, AK 99660, 546-2331, www.beringsea.com/communities/Saint_Paul/. City of Saint George, P.O. Box 929, Saint George Island, AK 99591, 859-2263.

Between two and three million seabirds summer on the island of Saint George Island, most finding some cranny among the cliffs for nesting. There are good opportunities for bird observing and hiking. Flatter and sandier, Saint Paul Island hosts the region's largest concentration of fur seals which congregate here by the hundreds to bear their young. Saint Paul is the slightly larger of the two isles at 40 square miles. Each island has one principle community that shares the name of its island host.

The uninhabited Pribilofs were discovered in 1786 by the Russian explorer Gavrill Pribilof. He was looking for—and found—the breeding grounds of the fur seal. The Russians subsequently enslaved Aleuts from Siberia, Unalaska, and Atka, and took them to the islands to harvest the seals. In 1870 the Alaska Commercial Company took over seal harvesting from the departing Russians, improving the conditions of the Aleuts somewhat by providing housing, food, and medical care in exchange for work. Aleut settlements gained permanence, but the people suffered with the decline of the seal harvest and were long considered wards of the state. During World War II, most were interred with other Aleutian natives at Funter Bay in the Southeast.

After the war, many returned, adopting a constitution and charter under the Indian Reorganization Act in 1950. Residents still depend in part on subsistence harvesting of fur seals (now tightly regulated) and domesticated reindeer. Since 1969, $28.5 million has been provided to island residents—part in consideration for the shabby treatment they received for so many years, and part to boost development of economic alternatives to seal harvesting. Today the town of Saint Paul hosts the largest community of Aleuts in the world (about 500). Saint George is a much smaller town, but is almost entirely Aleut. Both have expanded their economies to include commercial fishing, fish processing, and tourism.

Most of the approximately 700 annual visitors to the Pribilofs come on birding tours. About 225 bird species have been identified here, including red-faced cormorant, oldsquaw, rock sandpiper, northern fulmar, parakeet, least and crested auklet, common and thick-billed murre, black and red-legged kittiwake, and puffins. Arctic blue fox, sea lions, whales, and reindeer may also be seen. Saint Paul is the more popular destination of the two islands since it has visitor facilities. Reeve Aleutian Airways offers tours (see the Appendix).

Where to Stay and Eat on Saint Paul Island

King Eider Hotel, Saint Paul, 546-2477.

King Eider Restaurant, Saint Paul, 546-2312.

Where to Stay and Eat on Saint George Island

St. George Tanaq Corporation Hotel, Saint George, AK 99591; 272-9886. No restaurant or meal service is available.