Pribilof Islands

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PRIBILOF ISLANDS. The Pribilof Islands, in the Bering Sea, were first visited in 1786 by the Russian explorer Gerasim Pribylov. The islands were ceded to the United States by Russia at the time of the purchase of Alaska in 1867. As the summer breeding grounds of the largest known herd of seals, they became the subject of a controversy between the United States, Great Britain, and other nations whose subjects were slaughtering the seals for their fur. In 1869 the U.S. Congress passed a law restricting the sealing. An American cutter seized Canadian vessels engaged in pelagic sealing in 1886. The British government vigorously protested, and an arbitration tribunal, agreed to in 1892, decided against the United States in 1893. The dispute was finally settled in 1911 by the North Pacific Sealing Convention between Great Britain, Russia, Japan, and the United States. The United States was given the right to regulate the killing of the seals, and the herd increased from a low of 127,000 in 1911 to more than 2.5 million in the 1960s. Japan withdrew from the convention in 1941, during World War II.


Elliott, Henry Wood. The Seal Islands of Alaska. Kingston, Ontario, Canada: Limestone Press, 1976.

Jones, Dorothy Miriam. A Century of Servitude: Pribilof Aleuts Under U.S. Rule. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1980.

Charles MarionThomas/t. g.

See alsoGalapagos Islands ; Navy, Department of the ; Sino-Japanese War ; Taft-Katsura Memorandum .

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Pribilof Islands (prĬb´Ĭlŏf´), group of four volcanic islands, off SW Alaska in the Bering Sea, c.230 mi (370 km) N of the Aleutian Islands; explored and named in 1786 by Gerasim Pribilof, a Russian navigator. The larger islands, St. Paul and St. George, are famous as the breeding place of the Alaska fur seal. The islands, part of the 1867 U.S. purchase of Alaska, became a seal reservation in 1868; they are administered by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. Prior to 1911, competition and ruthless hunting methods threatened extinction of the seals. At that time, the United States, Great Britain, Japan, and Russia entered into the North Pacific Sealing Convention, giving the United States the right to enforce the provisions of the convention (see Bering Sea Fur-Seal Controversy under Bering Sea). Japan withdrew from the convention in 1941. Under protection, the seal herd has greatly increased. Blue and white foxes are native to the islands. The Aleuts, brought to the islands in the late 1700s by the Russians, make a living by processing the seal and fox furs.