The Pribilof Islands are known for the dense fog that regularly envelops them throughout the summer months, and today was no exception. We couldn’t see the island of St. George from the ship, nor for most of our short Zodiac ride to shore. However, soon the rocky coastline materialized before us, and we arrived at a small and very atmospheric village, nestled amongst green hillsides accented with beautiful wildflowers.
The Pribilofs are the most important breeding site in the world for the northern fur seal, which was the target of commercial sealing operations for many years. We hiked out to a bluff from which we could look down across a fur seal rookery, and watch the social dynamics unfold below us.
Massive males stood guard over their territories, which were occupied by many females and their recently born pups. A fur seal researcher who was on hand to answer questions told us that the fur seal population has been declining 5% a year for several decades, most likely due to overfishing in the Bering Sea. It was a sobering message, which we mulled over while watching kittiwakes, murres, and puffins coming and going from a nearby seabird nesting cliff.
We then had time to roam around the town for a bit. It didn’t take long to see the place; in fact, one person in our group was overheard saying, “Can I walk to the town from here?” not realizing that he indeed was already there. We all met up at the school, where the townspeople put on a cultural performance, and shared local delicacies made from seal, reindeer, fish, and salmonberries. A wonderful day was had by all in this remote outpost in the Bering Sea.