1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pribilof Islands

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PRIBILOF ISLANDS (often called the Fur Seal Islands, Russian equivalent, “ Kotovi ”), a group of four islands, part of Alaska, lying in Bering Sea in about 56° 50' N. and 170° W., about 200 m. N. of Unalaska and 200 m. S. of Cape Newenham, the nearest point on the mainland. The principal islands are St Paul (about 35 sq. m.; 13 m. long, from N.E. to S.W.; maximum width about 6 m.; named from St Peter and St Paul's Day, on which it was discovered) and St George (about 27 sq. m.; 10 m. long, maximum width, 4 m.; probably named after Pribilof's ship) about 30 m. S.E.; Otter and Walrus islets, the former covering about 4 sq. m., and the latter merely a reef covering about 64 acres, are near St Paul. In 1907 the native population was 263—170 on St Paul and 93 on St George. Only agents of the United States or employes of the lessees are permitted as residents on the islands. The islands are hilly and volcanic—Bogoslof, a crater on St Paul, is 600 ft. high—without harbours, and have a mean annual temperature of about 35.7° F., and a rainfall of about 35 in. There are only two seasons—rainy summers lasting from May to October, and dry winters from November to April. The flora is restricted to ferns, mosses and grasses, though there are some creeping willows and small shrubs. The largest seal rookery, containing about 80% of the seals in the Pribilofs, is on St Paul. The seals found here are a distinct variety (Callorhinus alascanus) with much better fur than that of any other variety. Besides the fur seal there are blue and grey foxes (more on St George than on St Paul), and on St George Island and on the Walrus reef there are great bird rookeries—the breeding places of immense numbers of gulls, sea-parrots, auks, cormorants and arries (Lomvia arra).

The islands were first sighted in 1767 by Joan Synd, and were visited in 1786 by Gerasim Pribiloff, who discovered the fur seal rookeries for which they became famous. From Russia the islands passed with Alaska to the United States in 1867. From 1870 to 1890 the United States government leased the islands to the Alaska Commercial Company. In 1890–1910 the North American Commercial Company held the monopoly. But the industry shrank considerably owing to pelagic sealing. The season during which land hunting is allowed on the islands includes June, July, September and October. (See also Seal and Bering Sea Arbitration.)