1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bering Island, Sea and Strait

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17576691911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 3 — Bering Island, Sea and Strait

BERING ISLAND, SEA and STRAIT. These take their name from the explorer Vitus Bering. The island (also called Avatcha), which was the scene of his death, lies in the south-western part of the sea, off the coast of Kamchatka, being one of the Commander or Komandor group, belonging to Russia. It is 69 m. long and 28 m. in extreme breadth; the area is 615 sq. m. The extreme elevation is about 300 ft. The smaller Copper Island lies near. The islands are treeless, and the climate is severe, but there is a population of about 650. Bering Sea is the northward continuation of the Pacific Ocean, from which it is demarcated by the long chain of the Aleutian Islands. It is bounded on the east by Alaska, and on the west by the Siberian and Kamchatkan coast. Its area is estimated at 870,000 sq. m. In the north and east it has numerous islands (St Lawrence, St Matthew, Nunivak and the Pribiloff group) and is shallow; in the south-west it reaches depths over 2000 fathoms. The seal-fisheries are important (see Bering Sea Arbitration). The sea is connected with the Arctic Ocean northward by Bering Strait, at the narrowest part of which East Cape (Deshnev) in Asia approaches within about 56 m. of Cape Prince of Wales on the American shore. North and south of these points the coasts on both sides rapidly diverge. They are steep and rocky, and considerably indented. The extreme depth of the strait approaches 50 fathoms, and it contains two small islands known as the Diomede Islands. These granite domes, lacking a harbour, lie about a mile apart, and the boundary line between the possessions of Russia and the United States passes between them. They are occupied by a small tribe of about 80 Eskimo, who have from early times plied the trade of middlemen between Asia and America. They call the western island Nunárbook and the eastern Ignálook. Haze and fogs greatly prevail in the strait, which is never free of ice.

The earliest names associated with the exploration of Bering Strait are those of Russians seeking to extend their trading facilities. Isai Ignatiev made a voyage eastward from the Kolyma river in 1646, and Simon Dezhnev in 1648 followed his route and prolonged it, rounding the East or Dezhnev Cape, and entering the strait. The post of Anadyrsk was founded on the river Anadyr, and overland communications were gradually opened up. A Russian named Popov first learnt a rumour of the existence of islands east of Cape Dezhnev, and of the proximity of America, and presently there followed the explorations of Vitus Bering. In 1731 the navigator Michael Gvosdev was driven by storm from a point north of Cape Dezhnev to within sight of the Alaskan coast, which he followed for two days. Under Bering on his last voyage (1741) was Commander Chirikov of the “St Paul,” and after being separated from his leader during foggy weather this officer reached the Alaskan coast and explored a considerable stretch of it. Lieutenant Waxel and William Steller, a naturalist, left at the head of Bering’s party after his death, by their researches laid the foundation of the important fur trade of these waters. The Aleutian Islands gradually became known in the pursuit of this trade, through Michael Novidiskov (1745) and his successors, and it was not until Captain James Cook, working from the south, explored the sea and strait in 1778 that the tide of discovery set farther northward.