Pribilof Islands

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The Pribilof Islands (formerly the Northern Fur Seal Islands) are a group of four volcanic islands, part of the US state of Alaska, lying in the Bering Sea, about 200 miles (320 km) north of Unalaska and 200 miles southwest of Cape Newenham, the nearest point on the North American mainland. The Siberian coast is roughly 500 miles (800 km) away from the Pribilof Islands. About 200 km² (80 sq mi) in total area, they are mostly rocky, covered with tundra, and support a human population of 684 (2000 census), concentrated in the towns of St. Paul and St. George, each on an island of the same name.

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Principal islands

The principal islands are St. Paul (named from the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, on which it was discovered) and St. George (probably named after Pribilof's ship).[1] The Otter and Walrus islets are near St. Paul. The total land area of all the islands is 75.072 sq mi (194.436 km²). The islands are part of the Bering Sea unit of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.[2]

The islands were noted in 1767 and visited in 1788 by Gavriil Pribilof, who discovered the fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) 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. From 1890 through 1910, the North American Commercial Company held the monopoly on seal-hunting on the islands, but the industry shrank considerably owing to pelagic sealing.

The North Pacific Fur Seal Convention of 1911 was signed by Canada, Japan, Russia and the United States which further restricted hunting in the area. Under the Fur Seal Act[3] of 1966, hunting of these seals is forbidden in the Pribilof Islands with the exception of subsistence hunting by Aleuts who live on the islands. Uninhabited when discovered by Pribilof, Aleuts were soon brought to the islands as slaves to harvest fur seals.

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