St. Paul Island, which is more than 300 thousand years old, is one of several that make up the Pribilof Islands, so named by the Russian navigator, Gavriel Pribylov, in 1787. The over 40 square mile island in the middle of the Bering Sea lies 750 miles west of Anchorage. It is roughly 250 miles north of the east central Aleutians, 300 miles from Alaska's west coast, and only 500 miles east of Siberia.
With a sub-Arctic maritime climate, the weather on St. Paul Island is cool year round. Mean temperatures vary from 19 to 51 degrees Fahrenheit. There is an annual rainfall of 25 inches and 56 inches of snow.
Carved by wind and wave, the island captivates the senses. There are towering, rocky cliffs rising from the sea, beaches of sand the color of charcoal and green tea, rolling hills, and sharp peaks and craggy outcroppings of primarily olivine basalt rock rising toward the sky. Many of the shores are stacked with a blend of pebbles, rocks, and boulders of incredible variety.
Home to the largest Aleut population in the world, the history of these people has been shaped by the Russians and by stewardship under the U. S. government. The Russian influence is visible in the beautiful Russian Orthodox Church, in the three-bar crosses that mark the resting places of Aleuts, in the names of geographic features on the island, and in the names of the Aleuts themselves.
The present Aleuts on the island, who are welcoming and friendly, descend from an ancient people that were skilled seafarers and hunters. Many today still ply the Bering Sea today as commercial fishermen of crab and halibut.
Aleuts also were skilled artisans, although much of their creations served a functional purpose. Ivory carving, basketweaving, the making of traditional bentwood hats and kayaks, and dancing continues today in the community. Efforts are underway to introduce the diversity of the culture and heritage of St. Paul Island Aleuts to the rest of the world through establishment of a permanent museum on the island, as well as through traveling exhibits and an online exhibit.
No less than 248 species of birds have been recorded on the island. In spring, many rare birds, including Siberian vagrants, may be spotted on the island. Select the birding alert link to sample weekly sightings through the course of a season.
Northern Fur Seals
One of the most notable sights on the island are the northern fur seal rookeries. In late May, the male seals arrive and stake out their territory in preparation for the arrival of the females. On June 1, the rookeries are closed and remain off limits until mid-October . Thereafter, these magnificent marine mammals may be viewed, by permit, from blinds at two rookeries.
Harbor Seals, Sea Lions, Walrus, Whales
Harbor Seals breed on Otter Island, several miles southwest of St. Paul Island, but nonetheless are often seen off St. Paul shores. Occasionally, Steller sea lions haul out on St. Paul, but usually take refuge in the rookery at Walrus Island, some 10 miles northeast of St. Paul. On extremely rare occasions, Grey whales, Orcas, and walrus are observed offshore.
Blue fox, a subspecies of the Arctic fox, is small. Endemic to the island, the fox can be found roaming the hills and climbing the cliffs as it scavenges for food.
A large herd of reindeer roam the island. Of domesticated Russian stock, the reindeer were introduced to the island in 1911.
In spring, with the greening of the island, wildflowers begin to decorate the meritime tundra landscape. There are more than 100 species of wildflowers, from the Arctic lupine, with its bluish-purple blossoms, to the glowing yellow Alaska poppy, that can be viewed.
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This site was built in part by Natasha Philemonoff and Aubrey Wegeleben, with assistance from Silvia A. Senisch. All three are Aleut women and received training in HTML under a grant from the state of Alaska. Web design by Helen R. Letts.