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Photo: Bob Wilson | Parakeet auklet (Aethia psittacula) Alaska

More Information

Summary Overview

The Pribilof Islands are situated near the shelf break in the Bering Sea.The Pribilof Islands harbor some of the largest seabird colonies in the northern hemisphere and are major nesting areas for thick-billed murre, red-face cormorant, puffins and black-legged kittiwake. The islands are home to 75 percent of the world’s red-legged kittiwake, a Bering Sea endemic species.The highly migratory and endangered short-tailed albatross forages nearby, along the Bering Sea shelf break. Nine hundred thousand northern fur seals (75 percent of the world population) use the rocky beaches as rookeries. The high intensity of fishing activities, which may cause overfishing, bycatch and habitat damage, is one of the greatest threats facing the Pribilofs.

Site Overview

The Pribilof Islands are situated near the shelf break in the Bering Sea, some 300 miles (500 kilometers) offshore. The islands’ shorelines are rocky, with many headlands and embayments. In the surrounding waters are strong current fronts, strong cross-shelf exchanges, dynamic nutrient mixing and intense upwellings. Together these factors lead to high biomass productivity. Gorgonian corals are found on the shelf break near the Pribilofs. Once abundant, red and blue king crabs (Paralithodes camtschaticus and P. playpusplatypus) are now targets of intensive fishing pressure. Atka mackerel (Pleurogrammus monopterygius) school on the edge of the continental shelf. Pollock, halibut, Pacific cod, and various rockfishes aand flatfishes are all components of this ecosystem. The Pribilof Islands harbor some of the largest seabird colonies in the northern hemisphere and are major nesting areas for thick-billed murre (Uria lomvia), red-face cormorant (Phalacrocorax urile), puffins (Fratercula spp.) and black-legged kittiwake (Rissa trydactyla). The islands are home to 75 percent of the world’s red-legged kittiwake (R. brevirostris), a Bering Sea endemic species. The highly migratory and endangered short-tailed albatross (Phoebastria albatrus) forages nearby, along the Bering Sea shelf break. North America’s largest murre colony is found on St. George Island, one of the Pribilofs (Banks et al. 2000). Following winters spent as far south as the Baja California Peninsula, northern fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) also breed on the Pribilof Islands.Many mammal species inhabit the area, including right and bowhead whales, Steller’s sea lion, and Pacific walrus.Humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae), blue, and gray whales spend their summer here feeding. Sea otters (Enhydra lutris) are seen throughout the islands. Nine hundred thousand northern fur seals (75 percent of the world population) use the rocky beaches as rookeries (Robson 2002). The high intensity of fishing activities, which may cause overfishing, bycatch and habitat damage, is one of the greatest threats facing the Pribilofs. This area once had the greatest biomass of pandalid shrimp in the Bering Sea (Banks et al. 2000), but this species is now depleted by overfishing.

Fact Sheet

Banner Image Caption: 

Parakeet auklet (Aethia psittacula) Alaska

Federal and International Designations: 

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, US Fish and Wildlife Service (US FWS)

NOAA Fisheries-designated Steller's sea lion critical habitats with fishing restrictions

Important to MSCCC (Marine Mammals): 

sea otter, blue whale, gray whale, humpback whale, northern right whale

Important to MSCCC (Seabirds): 

short-tailed albatross

Continental Uniqueness: 

High endemism

North America’s largest murre colony on St. George Island

important pollock spawning area

Ecological Linkages: 

largest colonies in the northern hemisphere for many cross-boundary migratory seabirds (e.g., thick billed murre, red-legged kittiwake, auklets)

Physical/Oceanographic Uniqueness: 

Offshore islands (with high endemism)

large, productive continental shelf

Country: 
United States

Threats

PCAExtratction of nonrenewable resourcesExploitation of renewable resourcesCoastal land use changePollution at coast/at seaDamagin recreational usePhysical alteration of coastline
Pribilof Islands (United States)
Low UnchangedLow WorseningLow UnchangedLow UnchangedHigh WorseningLow Unchanged
Threats Legend

MSCCC

MSCCC Mammals: sea otter, blue whale, gray whale, humpback whale, northern right whale

MSCCC Birds: short-tailed albatross

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