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Sea Otter I
(IX-51: dp. 100; 1. 80'; b. 12'8"; dr. 6'8")
Sea Otter I was built by Jacobson's Shipyard, Oyster Bay, Long Island, N.Y.; launched on 24 May 1941 acquired by the Navy on 29 May 1941, and placed in service on 9 July 1941.
Prior to her completion, Sea Otter I had been offered to the Navy for use as a district craft for experimental purposes by her owner, Mr. Roland L. Redmond, of New York City.
Sea Otter I operated in waters of the 3d Naval District prior to World War II. She was placed out of service on 6 November 1941 and struck from the Navy list on 24 June 1942. Sea Otter I's provision unit was shipped to the Naval Engineering Experimental Station, Annapolis, Md., and her hull was scrapped.
The Sea Otter Savvy program was established in summer of 2015 as a result of collaborative efforts by Southern Sea Otter Research Alliance members from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Friends of the Sea Otter, and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). A panel of these advisors meets regularly to discuss strategies and upcoming projects. As we have grown and developed, Sea Otter Savvy has become a trusted source of sea otter information throughout California and beyond. Our community-based research and outreach program was recognized as a tax-exempt public benefit nonprofit organization under IRS code 501(c)(3) in 2020.
The approach of these kayakers caused these sea otters to swim away, wasting vital energy. Photo by Gena Bentall As southern sea otters (the subspecies Enhydra lutris nereis) recolonize the coastal habitats from which they were nearly extirpated during the maritime fur trade of the 1800s, they increasingly come into contact with human activities. In harbors, estuaries, and other sheltered waters of the California coast, this charismatic species is a primary attraction for visitors and is also exposed incidentally to other human-related dangers, such as boat traffic, fishing line entanglement, and domestic animal interactions.
Among marine mammals, sea otters have unique characteristics that make them more vulnerable to the negative effects of human-caused disturbance. Lacking the blubber layer of other marine mammals, they rely on a dense fur coat and a hot-burning metabolism to maintain body temperature in cold ocean waters. Energy is at a premium, and they have none to waste on avoiding encroaching humans.
Recent research on the energy expenditures of reproductive female sea otters has shown that individuals in this stage are physiologically challenged, suggesting that repeated disturbance can be harmful to sea otters by depleting their critical energy reserves. In extreme cases, the additional stress caused by human disturbance may lead to pup abandonment or even death.
Wildlife tour operators, kayakers, photographers, and other marine recreationists often approach too closely, causing the repeated disturbance of sea otters throughout the day. Without access to information, individuals participating in marine recreation activities may have little understanding of wildlife behavior (such as cues to imminent disturbance), laws protecting marine mammals, or the negative impacts of human-caused disturbance on wildlife.
Sea otters are essential members of the North Pacific coastal communities. Their ecosysytem services are well documented and their presence can confer economic benefit to human communities. Sea Otter Savvy strives to better understand the effects of human disturbance on sea otters, and to share that knowledge in a way that inspires stewardship.
I absolutely love old fashioned animal illustrations, and I found this great sketch of an otter on land on Wiki Commons, which, if you’re not familiar with it, is a database of freely usable data files, all in the public &hellip Continue reading &rarr
Often, when reading blogs and researching photos, I find that folks are a little confused about sea otters and where they live. So I thought I would try to set the record straight about the locales of our beloved salt &hellip Continue reading &rarr
Sea Otter I IX-51 - History
This engraving is one of the illustrations included in Charles M. Scammon&rsquos The Marine Mammals of the North-Western Coast of America, published in 1874.
The sea otter (Enhydra lutris) played a pivotal role in the history of the Northwest Coast beginning in the late eighteenth century. At that time, sea otters were present across a vast region stretching from the Sea of Japan in the North Pacific to the Sea of Cortez in Baja California. This small marine mammal, a member of the weasel family, inhabited the kelp beds of the coastal areas, feeding on starfish, mollusks, and sea urchins. By the late eighteenth century, a market for sea otter furs had developed in northern China owing to the tastes of the Manchu upper class, who prized the furs for their warmth and especially luxurious appearance. What distinguished the otter pelts from other furs was the density, thickness, and lustrous quality of the animals&rsquo hair, characteristics resulting from their lack of insulating body fat.
The Russians were the first Europeans to exploit the sea otter, beginning in the 1740s. Over the next several decades, Russian entrepreneurs known as promyshlenniks outfitted trading expeditions to Alaska, beginning in the Aleutian islands and moving progressively eastward to the Gulf of Alaska. British and American entrepreneurs entered the sea otter trade on the Northwest Coast in the mid-1780s. The official account of Captain James Cook&rsquos expedition to the Northwest Coast, published in 1784, had sparked interest in the trade since it noted the high returns that could be garnered for sea otter skins in China. The British and American entrepreneurs competed aggressively in the early years, but by the 1790s, American ships hailing from Boston came to dominate the maritime fur trade on the Northwest Coast. This dominance was the result of several factors. Russian trading efforts were hampered by the long supply lines between their bases in Alaska and cities in eastern Russian, and by the fact that the main Chinese port of Canton was closed to Russian traders. British vessels also suffered from British trade practices that forced them to obtain licenses from the South Sea Company and the East Indian Company. In contrast, the Americans enjoyed open access to the Canton markets and a shorter sailing time on the trade triangle from Boston to the Northwest Coast, to China, and back to Boston.
From the 1790s and through the 1810s, scores of British, Russian, and American vessels plied the Northwest for sea otters, trading with various Native groups throughout Alaska, British Columbia, and parts of Washington and Oregon. As over-hunting depleted one region of its sea otter population, the fur trade would move on to another area. After 1810, the sea otter trade slowly diminished throughout the Northwest Coast. By the 1840s, the once plentiful sea otters had been driven to the brink of extinction. In the late twentieth century, protective legislation, and the concerted efforts of marine biologists, conservationists, Native groups, and lovers of the sea otter stimulated the recovery of sea otters in Pacific Coast waters.
Written by Melinda Jette, © Oregon Historical Society, 2003.
Related Historical Records
The illustration above shows a party of otter hunters near Coos Bay in 1856. It was common to shoot otter from the shore as depicted here, though small boats were also used to spear, shoot, net, and snare the fur-bearing marine mammals. The fur trade was no longer a dominant …
Supermarine Sea Otter
Best known for its famous, war-winning World War 2-era fighter, the "Spitfire", Supermarine of the United Kingdom was also a major player in the floatplane / flying boat industry. One of its contributions of the pre-war period became the "Sea Otter" (originally known as the "Sting Ray") which was produced in 292 examples as a biplane-winged "amphibian". This categorization meant that the aircraft was equally-capable of landing and taking off from either traditional runways or from water due to its multi-functional design.
The Sea Otter was developed by the company as a longer-ranged, maritime patrol version of its popular "Walrus" product of 1935 of which 740 were ultimately produced from 1936 until 1944. This aircraft, too, was an amphibian with a biplane wing arrangement and held its engine between the two planes, over the fuselage. The Sea Otter followed suit but installed its sole engine unit within the upper wing mainplane. Unlike the Walrus, which had its propelled driven in a "pusher" arrangement, the Sea Otter reverted to a more traditionally-arranged propeller mounting with the multi-bladed unit held at the front of the engine installation ("puller" arrangement).
It its earliest form, the Sea Otter was outfitted with a Bristol Perseus XI series air-cooled radial piston engine and this was used to drive a two-bladed propeller unit. When this was found to be too weak, a three-bladed propelled was substituted and a first-flight was recorded on September 23rd, 1938. Overheating issues led to a complete powerplant switch, this arriving in the form of the Bristol Mercury XXX series.
With the war in full swing, maritime patrollers like the Sea Otter were soon in high demand as seaways were contested across the globe. The British Air Ministry finally committed to the type through a January 1942 order and the series went on to see considerable wartime service under the banners of both the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Navy (RN). The latter proved the more prolific operator with no fewer than twenty-one squadrons operating the Sea Otter. The RAF utilized the line across nine squadrons as well as one experimental Marine unit.
As designed, the Sea Otter was crewed by four personnel and was given a length of 39.10 feet with a wingspan of 46 feet and a height of 15 feet. Empty weight was 6,800lb against an MTOW of 10,000lb and power from the Mercury XXX radial engine was 965 horsepower. Maximum speed reached 165 miles per hour with a range out to nearly 700 miles, a service ceiling up to 17,000 feet and a rate-of-climb nearing 870 feet-per-minute.
The Sea Otter was modestly armed through 1 x 7.7mm Vickers K machine gun fitted to the nose and 2 x 7.7mm Vickers K machine guns installed in the aft section of the aircraft. Its bombload measured 4 x 250lb drop bombs.
Outwardly, the aircraft was certainly a product of its time. The fuselage was traditionally-arranged with the cockpit seated aft of a nosecone assembly. The front and sides of the cockpit were lined with windows for better viewing by the crew. The biplane wing arrangement consisted of a lower unit fitted to the roof of the fuselage and an upper unit suspended high over the fuselage. The wings were joined by parallel strutworks and cabling. The upper wing unit held the single engine nacelle with the propeller just cleared the fuselage roof. Under each lower wing element were outboard pontoons for water-running / stability. For ground-based running, the aircraft incorporated a conventional "tail-dragge"r stance made up of two main legs emanating from the fuselage sides and a diminutive tailwheel seated under the tail structure. The tail section had a single vertical plane with a pair of mid-mounted horizontal planes.
Two production variants ultimately emerged, the first becoming "Sea Otter Mk I" and this model was used primarily in the reconnaissance and communications role. The follow-up "Sea Otter Mk II" was a dedicated Search and Rescue (SAR) platform. Some 592 units were ordered by the Air Ministry but, in the end, just 292 of the order were realized mainly due to the conclusion of the war in 1945. Global operators went on to include British allies Australia, Denmark, Egypt, France and the Netherlands.
Sea Otters found extended post-war service in both military and civilian markets. In the latter, various facilities were added, including a lavatory and baggage compartment, to better serve passengers.
Sea Otter I IX-51 - History
SEA OTTER > Enhydra lutris
DESCRIPTION: Sea otters use their rear flippers to move and their flat, muscular tails to steer. They have an exceptional sense of smell, hearing, and eyesight above water and below. Lacking blubber, otters have amazingly thick fur to assist in retaining heat. Males weigh 65 pounds on average and are around four feet in length females are slightly smaller.
HABITAT: Sea otters inhabit coastal waters, usually less than half a mile from shore. Their typical haunts include precipitous rocky shores, barrier reefs, tidewater stones, and dense kelp forests.
RANGE: Sea otters can be found in California, Washington, Canada, Alaska, Russia, and Japan. At one time, otter populations inhabited a contiguous range from Japan around the Pacific coastline down to Baja California.
MIGRATION: Sea otters do not migrate long distances. Local migration may occur.
BREEDING: Female otters reach sexual maturity at three years of age, and males follow at five to six years. Delayed implantation produces varied gestation times, most often between six and seven months. On occasion, twins are born, yet because females provide all of the parental care and the mother otter can't care for both twins, one is abandoned. Weighing up to five pounds, pups are born in the water with their eyes open. They start eating solid foods shortly after birth, but are dependent on their mothers for up to a year. Pups start diving within two months.
LIFE CYCLE: Male sea otters live between 10 and 15 years, while females live slightly longer, from 15 to 20 years.
FEEDING: Underneath each of the sea otter's powerful front paws is a pouch to store food collected during foraging dives. Otters carry large stones between their forepaws on these dives, used to dislodge prey and to break open shells. Their diet includes clams, crabs, sea urchins, starfish, abalone, and 40 different marine invertebrates. They also eat octopuses, squid, and fish. Sea otters have a high metabolism rate and eat 25 percent of their body weight every day &mdash an adult will consume 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of food annually. Otters eat while floating on their backs, using their chests as dining tables.
THREATS: Wastes containing heavy metals, pesticides, and PCBs continually pour into coastal waters, threatening sea otter populations. Oil spills are a huge threat to the species because the petroleum coats the fur that is so vital for keeping otters warm. Fishing nets, which otters become caught in, are another major cause of death.
POPULATION TREND: Sea otters once numbered several hundred thousand, yet their populations plummeted due to the surging fur trade of the 18th and 19th centuries. Southern sea otters rebounded until the 1970s, when populations again began to dwindle. The northern population in southwest Alaska has shrunk by 95 percent in the last 30 years, with only 6,000 individuals remaining.
Sea Otter I IX-51 - History
The illustration above shows a party of otter hunters near Coos Bay in 1856. It was common to shoot otter from the shore as depicted here, though small boats were also used to spear, shoot, net, and snare the fur-bearing marine mammals. The fur trade was no longer a dominant part of the region&rsquos economy by the mid-nineteenth century, but Indians and white settlers on the Oregon Coast continued to supplement their income by selling furs to Chinese merchants in San Francisco.
Members of the weasel family, sea otter are intelligent animals known for their playfulness and curiosity. They subsist primarily off of fish and bottom-dwelling invertebrates like sea urchins, crabs, and clams. Scientists consider them keystone species since they exert important influences on the structure and composition of inshore marine ecosystems.
Unlike most marine mammals, sea otter do not rely on blubber to keep them warm in the cold Pacific. Instead, they depend on their exceptionally dense fur, which, when properly groomed and free from contaminants like oil, is waterproof. It is this rich, luxurious pelt that drew traders from around the world to the Northwest Coast during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Sea otter once ranged from Baja California up through Alaska and across into the waters off Siberia and northern Japan. Bones in middens excavated on the Oregon Coast indicate that sea otter were once abundant here. Heavy hunting pressure nearly wiped the species out, however, and by the 1920s only remnant populations remained in Siberia, Alaska, and California. The last known Oregon sea otter was shot in 1906 at Otter Rock.
Although attempts by state and federal wildlife agencies in the early 1970s to relocate Alaskan otter to Oregon failed, a handful of sea otter sightings have been documented in recent years, probably strays from a small population of relocated Alaskan sea otter on Washington&rsquos Olympic Peninsula.
Kenyon, Karl W. The Sea Otter in the Eastern Pacific. Washington, D.C., 1970.
Scofield, John. Hail, Columbia!: Robert Gray, John Kendrick, and the Pacific Fur Trade. Portland, Oreg., 1992.
Tag: sea otter historyA sea otter hunter, Northwestern University Library, Edward S. Curtis
Elakha Board Member, Cameron La Follete, and Dr. Doug Deur, a cultural historian who is on our Advisory Committee, co-authored an article for We Proceeded On (WPO), the journal of the Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail Foundation, about Oregon sea otters and the Lewis and Clark expedition.
The intent in doing this article was to capture the interest of an important regional historical group for sea otter restoration in Oregon, and focus WPO’s readership on our region rather than (as is frequently the case) the Great Plains and the Midwest generally. Interestingly, the L&C Journals have more than thirty references to Expedition members trading with Clatsop and Chinook peoples for sea otter pelts, so the sea otter saga is hardly a minor part of the 1805-6 winter they spent at Fort Clatsop.
To read & download a pdf scan of this fascinating historic article, click here.
Americans began commercial fishing for cod in Alaskan waters before the 1867 transfer ceremony. Ships sailed from San Francisco to the Shumagin and Sanak islands off the Alaska Peninsula and to the Aleutian Islands to fish for cod. To preserve the fish after they were caught, they were salted. Cod-liver oil was extracted.
Between 1865 and 1900, an average of 10 ships annually fished for cod in Alaska waters. Several companies established shore fishing stations, the first at Pirate Cove on Popof Island in the Shumagin Islands in 1876. Canning cod was unsuccessful. The American public did not like the taste. Although commercial cod fishing continued in Alaska, salmon replaced cod in importance because the American public liked the taste of canned salmon.
Before canneries opened in Alaska in 1878, several salmon salteries operated. The first American shore-based saltery operated at Klawock on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska by 1868.
Salmon fishing and canning dominate Alaska's commercial fishing industry
The introduction of the canning process sparked development of Alaska's large salmon fisheries. By 1900, over 85 per cent of the fish annually caught in Alaska waters were salmon.
In 1878, the North Pacific Trading and Packing Company opened a salmon cannery at Klawock and the Cutting Packing Company started a salmon cannery near Sitka. The Klawock cannery operated for many years. The machinery from the Sitka cannery was moved to Cook Inlet after two seasons. Other canneries opened in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska. On Kodiak Island, at the mouth of the Karluk River, several canneries were built. In 1883, the Arctic Packing Company established the first cannery in Western Alaska, at Nushagak ire Bristol Bay. By the end of the nineteenth century, 42 salmon canneries operated in Alaska. In 1878, Alaska canneries packed 8,000 cases of salmon in 1900, they packed 1.5 million cases.
The Scandinavian Cannery at Nushagak in Western Alaska opened in 1885.
Collection Name: Alaska Historical Library, A.L. Angren Collection.
Identifier: PCA 35-61
By 1917, 118 canneries operated in Alaska. That year they packed more than half of the world's supply of salmon, nearly six million cases valued at $46 million. Much earlier, however, production had outdistanced demand. Alaska cannery owners organized an association as early as 1891 to sell unsold cases of salmon. This organization led to the creation of a corporation, the Alaska Packers Association, in 1893. Other large companies in the Alaska salmon canning industry included Pacific Steam Whaling Company, Pacific American Fisheries, New England Fish Company, Nakat Packing Company, and Libby, McNeil, Libby.
From the beginning, non-residents dominated the salmon fishing and canning industry in Alaska. Originally, the owners were from San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. More recently, foreign interests, particularly the Japanese, have purchased and operated canneries in Alaska. Many Alaskans resented non-residents exploiting Alaska's salmon resources. Residents felt they and the territory benefited little. When Alaska received territorial status in 1912, control of its fisheries remained with the federal government although the territory was given authority to tax the industry.
Salmon are caught in many ways
Once caught, salmon spoiled quickly. For that reason, canneries were usually built near river mouths where salmon schooled before ascending the stream to spawn. There salmon were caught in barricades placed across the mouths of streams. Although efficient, barricades did not allow many salmon to escape upstream to spawn. Congress outlawed barricades in 1889.
Fish traps were also used. A trap of woven wire and netting was suspended from pilings driven into the ocean floor. Salmon were guided through progressively smaller openings in a series of nets until they reached a center net from which they could not escape. Huge mobile floating traps were introduced in 1907. Alaskans outlawed fish traps in 1959. Many expected this action to help small Alaska fishing operators. Large cannery owners would have to pay more for fish caught from boats. The move also would help maintain the salmon runs.
Floating canneries, where salmon were processed aboard ship, were introduced in Alaska in the 1880s. By the 1920s, they were popular in Southeast and Southwest Alaska.
Smaller operators used gill nets or drag seines. The gill net entangled fish after its head and gills passed through a net square. The nets were anchored from shore or let out from a boat. Drag seines were nets pulled across a salmon run.
Fisheries conservation is concern
Commercial companies fished in Alaska waters with short-sighted aggressiveness. As early as 1899, Alaska Natives appealed to the government to protect the salmon for those who relied on it for food. They also asked for the return of some of their fishing sites that cannery operators had occupied. In 1900, Congress responded to the appeals by requiring that anyone engaged in commercial salmon fishing in Alaska establish a hatchery for sockeye salmon. Most cannery operators waited to see if the regulation would be enforced before investing money in a fish hatchery. Congress failed to provide adequate funds for enforcement.
In 1906, Congress tried a different tactic to force fish conservation. It levied a tax of four cents on each case of salmon canned. A company could receive a 40 cent rebate for every 1,000 sockeye or king salmon fry that its hatchery released. Most cannery owners did not participate in the rebate program.
Salmon being unloaded from barges onto a fish elevator at Ketchikan's dock. The tramway carried the fish to a nearby cannery for processing.
Collection Name: Alaska Historical Library, John E. Thwaites Collection.
Identifier: PCA 18-324
The salmon industry requires many workers
The Star of Alaska, shown here being pulled by two tugs, was purchased by the Alaska Packers Association in 1904. The ship carried cannery workers and supplies to Southwest Alaska canneries until 1928.
Collection Name: Alaska Historical Library, A.L. Angren Collection.
Identifier: PCA 35-7
In 1903, Alaska cannery owners began to introduce salmon-butchering machines. These machines replaced 15 to 30 cannery line workers. They also increased the rate of production. With the help of an operator, a machine cut off the head, tail, and fins of a fish split it down the belly removed the entrails and cleaned the fish. Although the machines changed the industry, thousands of seasonal cannery workers were still needed in the Alaska salmon canning industry.
Other fish are sought in Alaskan waters
Alaskan waters were also home to halibut, herring, shrimp, and crab. As early as 1878, small herring operations caught and processed around 30,000 pounds of herring valued at $900. A larger commercial herring venture began in 1882 with construction of a herring reduction plant at Killisnoo Island near Admiralty Island. The plant produced 30,000 gallons of oil valued at $7,500 its first year of operation. The oil was used as tallow and as ingredients in printers' ink and in cosmetics.
Commercial halibut fishing in Southeast Alaska began during the 1890's.
Collection Name: Alaska Historical Library Vincent Soboleff Collection.
Identifier: PCA 1-312B
Japanese began commercial crab fishing in Alaskan waters during the 1880s. Several boats annually caught crab off the Aleutian and Kodiak islands. Only after World War II did Americans begin to fish commercially for crab in Alaskan waters.
Commercial fishing for halibut began in the 1890s. Before cold storage plants, a major difficulty was getting the fish to market before it spoiled. Alaska's glaciers provided a solution. Halibut were packed in wood boxes and glacial ice. The commercial enterprise reportedly began in 1896 when a man named M. McCauley of Juneau shipped two tons of iced halibut to Portland, Oregon. By the early 1900s, halibut accounted for 10 per cent of the fish caught in Southeast Alaskan waters.
Alaska's fishing industry prospers then declines
During World War I, the Alaska fishing industry prospered. Salmon production boomed. In 1919, 135 canneries operated and the salmon pack reached an all-time high of 6.6 million cases. With the European cod fisheries closed by the war, Alaska cod was also in demand. New shore stations to process cod opened along the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands. Commercial clam fishing in Southcentral Alaska expanded, and a commercial crab fishery started.
After the war, the demand diminished. The number of salmon canneries operating in Alaska during 1920 fell to 76. Production declined to 4.6 million cases that season. Yet, the 1920s and 1930s proved to be a stable period for Alaska fisheries. Then in the late 1930s, after peak salmon runs, the number of salmon in Alaskan waters declined alarmingly. Some parts of Alaska were declared disaster areas. Alaskans blamed over-fishing and mis-management of the fisheries.
Commercial fishing in Alaskan waters continued to decline in the early 1940s because of World War II. Following the war, new markets for Alaska's seafood opened. Shrimp processing plants opened at Kodiak, Sand Point, Dutch Harbor, Squaw Harbor, and Akutan. Crab fishing boomed. In 1980, over 75 million pounds of crab were caught in Alaskan waters. In 1982, a record-breaking 330 vessels fished for crab at Kodiak and 118 vessels fished for crab in the Bering Sea. Markets for previously unexploited ground or bottom fish, such as flounder, were discovered.
The new State of Alaska undertakes to manage its fisheries
With statehood, Alaska received the authority to manage its fisheries. A Department of Fish and Game, an outgrowth of the Department of Fisheries created by the territorial legislature in 1949, was charged to set annual catch limits, to determine types of gear that would be permitted, and to define when and where fishing could take place. The new state also decided to build and operate several hatcheries. By 1983, the state operated 20 hatcheries. Another 15 hatcheries were operated privately or by non-profit groups.
During the 1960s, the fishing industry changed as freezing fish and flying fresh seafood to markets became possible. By 1982, only 51 per cent of the salmon caught in Alaska waters was canned. Although a number of canneries closed, Alaska's fishing industry rapidly expanded. Then in 1967, and again in 1974, the salmon runs in Bristol Bay were so small that both years the region was declared a disaster area. As they had in the 1930s, Alaskans blamed over-fishing and mis-management.
Alaskans felt that limiting the salmon fishing season and restricting types of gear were inadequate measures to preserve the fisheries. In 1972, they voted to amend the state constitution to give the state the power to limit the number of commercial fishers. The state restricted the number of licenses it would issue for commercial salmon fishing. The licenses became known as "limited entry permits." A proposal to repeal the enabling amendment failed in 1976.
The federal government continued to be involved in Alaskan fisheries management after 1959. In 1976, Congress extended American jurisdiction over offshore waters adjacent to U.S. coasts from 12 to 200 nautical miles. The United States government hoped this would give it some control over the increasing numbers of foreign fishing and processing vessels. The government also hoped to conserve the fish.
Alaska's fishing industry is significant to the state and world
After years of dominating Alaska industry, during the first half of the 1980s the seafood industry ranked second behind the petroleum industry. It remained an important source of income for the state and individuals. In 1981, Alaska's fishing industry produced more than one billion pounds of products. Forty per cent of the world's salmon catch was in Alaskan waters during the first years of the 1980s. The fishing industry provided around 44,000 jobs in Alaska. In 1980, around one-half of those employed were non-Alaskans. The industry was plagued with several problems. The crab harvest dwindled by 1983 to one-third of what it was in 1981. A botulism scare in 1982, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recalled about 50 million cans of Alaska salmon, hurt sales. Many Alaskans objected to increased foreign dominance of seafood processing plants. The debate over who-commercial, subsistence, or sport fishers-would catch what portion of the fish in Alaskan waters intensified.
Americans renew whaling in Alaskan waters
The United States Civil War almost destroyed the American whaling industry. At the beginning of the war the U.S. government bought 40 whaling ships, filled them with stones, then sank them to block the harbors of Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. Throughout the war Confederate ships often attacked and destroyed American whaling ships, which were all from northern ports. In 1865, the Confederate raider Shenandoah destroyed most of the arctic whaling fleet in waters off Alaska. The whaling industry was also affected by the pre-war discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania, where the world's first oil well went into production. Petroleum oil gradually replaced whale oil in many uses such as lamp fuels and lubricants. Despite these obstacles, whaling continued in Alaskan waters after the Civil War ended.
The arctic ice takes its toll
Each whaling season the arctic ice pack trapped or wrecked at least one or two whaling ships. The most disastrous year was 1871. Of 41 ships whaling in arctic waters that season, 32 were trapped between Point Belcher and Icy Cape. The ice pack unexpectedly shifted in early fall and blocked the ships' passage south. Twelve hundred people, including some women and children, crossed 60 miles of ice-choked waters in small boats to reach safety. Amazingly, all reached ships which had escaped the ice pack. The ice crushed some of the abandoned ships and carried others away, never to be recovered.
The whalers took such risks because whaling was profitable. Although the price of whale oil dropped by half in the 1870s, the price of baleen rose. This came about because the best sources of baleen, bowhead whales, had dropped in number and because new uses for baleen developed.
Between 1875 and 1900, baleen replaced oil as the most valued product of whale hunting. It was the chief plastic-like material of the period. Baleen began to be used in corsets and skirt hoops. It was also used for brushes, buggy whips, fishing rod joints, plumes on military hats and helmets, punch bowl ladles, and umbrella ribs.
Shore whaling stations change Eskimo life
A shore whaling station near Point Barrow. Many of the stations were trading posts as well.
Collection Name: Alaska Historical Library, S.J. Call Collection.
Identifier: PCA 181-48
Each station outfitted as many as 20 crews, composed mostly of Eskimos. Eskimo whaling techniques were similar to those used by New England crews, with one exception: Eskimos attached their harpoons to sealskin floats, New Englanders attached their harpoons to their boats. A harpooned whale could take a New Englanders' boat on a wild ride.
Shore whaling stations influenced Eskimo life. They competed for Eskimo crews, offering trade goods in exchange for employment. The stations offered a year's supply of flour and perhaps a rifle, bullets, and other food in return for two months work during the whaling season. Thus, Eskimos began to take whales for pay rather than for their own use. Many inland Eskimos moved near shore stations so they could work on the whaling crews.
Steam whalers change whaling patterns
Steam-powered whaling ships arrived off Alaska's coast about the time that the first shore what ing stations opened. The Mary and Helen was the first steam whaler to operate in the Alaskan arctic. The ship had a very successful first voyage, arriving at San Francisco in the fall of 1880 with 2,350 barrels of whale oil and 45,000 pounds of baleen. The Mary and Helen's captain credited his ship's success to its steam engines, saying he could stay with the whales when sailing ships could not.
Another new pattern developed with the use of steam whalers. The steam whalers, not dependent on winds, could stay on the whaling grounds longer than sailing ships before returning south in the fall. The steam ships left San Francisco in March. About July 4 they refueled at Port Clarence where there were large deposits of coal. They then whaled off Point Barrow in late summer and in the fall followed the bowheads to their autumn feeding grounds north of Siberia.
Completion of the transcontinental railroad across North America in the 1860s caused another change in the whaling pattern. Completion of the railroad meant that whalers could take the results of their catch to the railhead at San Francisco. The railroad then carried baleen and oil to the eastern United States. This was cheaper and faster than shipment by sea around Cape Horn or across the isthmus of Panama. The whalers' old pattern of wintering and resupplying in the Hawaiian Islands was broken. In its place, the whalers began to make their home port San Francisco.
Whalers move to new areas
Within a few years bowhead whales were scarce in the usual hunting areas. In 1888, Charles Brower, manager of a trading company at Point Barrow, sent scouts east to search for the bowheads' summer feeding grounds. They found large schools of whales in Canada's MacKenzie River delta on the Beaufort Sea. The next year, the Revenue Steamer Thetis located Pauline Harbor on Herschel Island where the whale ships would later winter.
In the summer of 1890, two Pacific Steam whaling ships, the Mary D. Hume and the Grampus, reached Herschel Island near the delta. The Nicoline also reached the delta. All three remained for the winter. The ships were ready when the first whales arrived in the spring of 1891. The Mary D. Hume took 37 whales in the summers of 1891 and 1892 and returned to San Francisco with one of the most valuable cargoes in whaling history. The ship's success led to heavy hunting in the MacKenzie River delta. The Grampus wintered in the Arctic on four of her nine voyages before being fatally damaged by ice near Point Barrow in 1901.
The price of baleen rose as high as seven dollars a pound in the late 1890s as fewer bowheads were caught. The high price invited substitutes and spring steel was introduced for corset stays. In 1907, the price of baleen dropped nearly 75 per cent from five dollars a pound to less than 50 cents a pound. From 1908 on, the few remaining arctic whaling ships were outfitted for fur trading voyages.
New shore-based whaling starts
Although whaling ships were disappearing, shore whaling continued. Stations appeared in Southeast Alaska, on the Aleutian Islands, on Cook Inlet, and at Nome.
The Tyee Company started one of the earliest of these operations at Murder Cove on Southeast Alaska's Admiralty Island. The company operated between 1907 and 1913. Whales caught were boiled into oil or ground into fertilizer. A declining catch and the sinking of the company's gas-powered schooner by a wounded whale ended the operation.
The harpoon on one of the whaling boats of the North Pacific Whaling Company. The company built a station to butcher whales, and distill oil and make dog food and fertilizer at akutan in Southwest Alaska.
Collection Name: Alaska Historical Library, U.S. Coast Guard Collection.
A group of Norwegians started a shore whaling station on Akutan Island in 1907. Incorporated as the Alaska Whaling Company, the operation changed its name to the North Pacific Whaling Company in 1915. The renamed company started a second station at Port Hobron, Sitkalidak Island, off Kodiak Island. Both stations operated into the 1930s, serving a growing market for dog food and fertilizer made from whale meat.
A different kind of whaling was attempted in Cook Inlet and at Nome between 1915 and 1920. Beluga whale hides could be made into soft gloves. Nets with large, deflated, rubber tubes on their upper edge were used. Whalers stretched the nets across rivers. When tides came in and the water rose, the nets sank to the bottom as the belugas entered the rivers. Then the tubes were inflated, the nets rose to the surface, and the belugas were trapped behind the nets. When low tide came, the small whales could be easily taken. The demand for whale skin gloves passed quickly, and all of the beluga whaling operations ended about 1920.
Whaling becomes independent of shore bases
In the 1920s, a new whaling era began. Large factory ships appeared. These ships could take entire whales aboard through large stern slipways. Complete processing aboard ship made whaling independent of shore bases. Japanese ships entered the Bering Sea in search of fin and right whales and soon were hunting in the Arctic Ocean. Japanese and Russian ships also hunted blue whales in the North Pacific Ocean off Alaska's coasts. New techniques and unrestricted whaling soon drastically reduced the world's population of whales, including those found in Alaskan waters.
Beginning in 1931, international conferences discussed possible limits on whaling. An International Whaling Agreement was reached only in 1937. The United States was the only North Pacific whaling nation to sign the agreement, but by this time Eskimo subsistence whaling was the only American whaling activity in Alaskan waters. World War II halted North Pacific whaling by other nations.
A steam whaling ship with whales alongside in Southeast Alaska.
Collection Name: Alaska Historical Library, Case and Draper Collection.
Identifier: PCA 39-497
Butchering a whale at the North Pacific Whaling Company shore whaling station at Akutan.
Collection Name: Alaska Historical Library, U.S. Coast Guard Collection.
After negotiations that involved allowing the Japanese to take an additional 5,681 sperm whales, the Eskimos were allowed a subsistence quota of 12 bowheads. In subsequent years, the International Whaling Commission slowly raised the bowhead quotas for Eskimo subsistence use, but never to a level satisfactory to the Eskimos. As the 1980s began, the controversy continued.
While they waited for annual whale migrations, the commercial whalers began to hunt walrus, another source of oil. Hunting walrus was easier than hunting whales. One person with a rifle could kill 100 animals stretched out on an ice floe. The rifle's noise would not disturb the walrus.
Whalers took more than 100,000 walrus between 1868 and 1880. This slaughter severely decreased the Eskimos' food supply. Some ship captains realized that the Eskimos faced starvation because of this. They warned that continued walrus hunting could end with extermination not only of the walrus, but also of the Eskimos who depended on them for food.
Marine mammal act limits walrus hunting
Controversy surrounded not only arctic whale hunting, but also Bering Sea walrus hunting. The number of walrus taken almost doubled in between 1962 and 1977. More often than not, only the tusks were kept and the carcasses left to rot.
The federal marine mammal act of 1977 allowed the state to assume day-to-day marine mammal management. The national government kept a policy-making role. Under the act, the federal government limited walrus hunting to Alaska Natives and established an annual quota of 3,000 walrus. When increasing kills approached this number, the government set quotas for each village. This was very unpopular.
Prior to 1972, the State Department of Fish and Game had permitted sport hunting of walrus and encouraged development of commercial markets. State game managers believed federal officials should increase the number of walrus that could be taken. Their studies showed that the walrus population was too high. This and other disagreements caused the state to return walrus management to the federal government in 1979.
For villages like Gambell and Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island, walrus were an important food source. Hunters in those communities believed that limits and quotas were unnecessary. One hunter said:
You don't know what it is to be an Eskimo. Out here hunting is our way of life. Carving ivory is our livelihood. We don't want welfare supporting us and we don't want to be forced from the villages.
Alaska Commercial Company controls Pribilof rookeries
Several companies competed in taking fur seals from the Pribilof Islands immediately after the United States purchased Russian interests in Alaska. One man, Captain Ebenezer Morgan of New London, Connecticut, even staked out the rookeries under the federal homestead act. He quickly gave up this interest in favor of becoming a part of Hutchinson, Kohl, and Company. This company took 220,000 seal skins in the summer of 1868. Parrot and Company took another 80,000 skins during the same season. Several small companies also took Pribilof Island seals that summer.
The competitive companies soon realized that the fur seal herds would be wiped out if the killing was not controlled. While several companies favored a killing quota, the Alaska Commercial Company--an outgrowth of the Hutchinson, Kohl, and Company--asked the government to lease the Pribilof fur seal rookeries to it. Under this plan, the Alaska Commercial Company would have had sole rights to the fur seals.
In the first seven years of United States control of Alaska, the Congress passed only two pieces of legislation that concerned the territory. The first established Alaska as a customs district and prohibited importing or selling distilled liquor. The second, in 1870, established the Pribilof Islands (often called the Seal Islands) as a reservation.
The reservation act granted a 20-year franchise for operating the Pribilof Island seal rookeries to the Alaska Commercial Company. The act was to preserve the herd by limiting the number of seals killed. In exchange for the monopoly, the Alaska Commercial Company paid the government rent and a royalty fee of $2.625 on each seal skin. The company also agreed to care for the Aleut population that lived on the islands. The agreement called for the company to run an eight-month school for the islands' children and to support widows and orphans. The company's Aleut workers were to be paid $350 to $450 per year and the villages were to be given 25,000 dried salmon, 60 cords of firewood, and sufficient salt and barrels to preserve seal meat.
The first lease ran from 1870 to 1890. During this time, Aleuts killed 1,854,029 Pribilof Island fur seals for the Alaska Commercial Company. The company also leased Russia's Commander Islands and sealed there. By 1885, the Alaska Commercial Company was selling 75 per cent of the world's supply of fur seal skins.
Changing employers (from the Russian-American Company to the Alaska Commercial Company) brought changes for Pribilof Islands Natives. Although the Russians had allowed the Aleuts to keep the seal skins that they needed for making boats, the Americans required them to pay for the skins. Only Aleuts who brought furs to trade were allowed to obtain supplies at the company store. The company did build new houses for the Aleuts, but they were not a success. Traditional Aleut barabaras were very well suited to the Pribilof Islands' climate. Built partially underground, they consisted of sod matted over a timber frame. The new houses were described as "neat and snug." They were lined with tar paper, painted, and furnished with stoves. But, in the cold and windy Pribilof Islands, the poorly insulated frame houses were hard to keep warm.
When Lieutenant J.E. Lutz of the Revenue Marine Cutter Corwin visited St. Paul in 1884, he reported that Aleuts were treated "exceedingly well." Those who wanted to become seal skinners earned as much in two months of work as the average laborer in the United States earned in a year. They also received, free of charge, a "quantity of fuel, salt meat, and condensed milk," as well as housing.
The task of protecting the Pribilof Islands' seals from poachers fell to crews of the revenue cutters, but they lacked jurisdiction to prevent the seals from being killed during their annual migration. The fur seals reached their Pribilof Islands breeding grounds in the spring and left in the fall. By 1878, their migration routes, which took them thousands of miles to the south, had been discovered. Sealing ships from Canada and the United States were beginning to follow the herds to kill the seals on the high seas. Pelagic sealing, as this practice was called, took place in international waters and was not controlled by United States law.
The Corwin, along with other cutters like the Rush and the Bear, was assigned to patrolling the Bering Sea. The cutters were expected to prevent seal poaching from the Pribilof Islands' rookeries and to carry out many other duties.
Governments preserve the seals
During the first decade of the 1900s, Alaskans protested the alarming drop in the fur seal population of the Pribilof Islands. The United States had not succeeded in closing the Bering Sea to pelagic sealing. They had, in 1893, made an agreement with Great Britain that established a 60-mile zone around the Pribilof Islands within which the seals would be protected. The agreement also prohibited the use of guns to take seals in any part of the Bering Sea.
Four years later, Congress prohibited American vessels from pelagic sealing. This did not prevent the British from continuing to take seals beyond the 60-mile Pribilof Islands' reserve. After 1900, Japanese sealing vessels joined them. Some of the Japanese sealers slipped within the 60-mile zone to poach seals on the Pribilof Islands breeding grounds.
It was difficult for the revenue cutters to prevent seal poaching. Usually only one ship was assigned to patrol the islands. When a cutter was caught in fog or bad weather on one side of the Pribilof Islands, poachers could run to the other side unseen. They were willing to take dangerous risks because the stakes were high. It took only moments to club large numbers of seals, return them to the ship, and set out for safety beyond the 60-mile zone. Profits for such a venture could be $10,000 or more.
In 1911, the governments of the United States and Russia, whose fur seal rookeries in the Chukchi Sea were also suffering from overhunting, negotiated a treaty with Japan and Canada to end pelagic sealing altogether. In exchange for protecting the seals on the high seas, the other nations shared the return from pelts harvested ashore. By the time the treaty was signed, very few fur seals remained of the Pribilof Islands' herd. The government suspended commercial sealing for five years to give the herds a chance to recover.
The closure was good for the seals, but hard on families living at St. Paul. They depended on the seal harvest for their income. In 1916, the residents sent a petition to the Commissioner of Fisheries in Washington, D.C. They asked that they be allowed to speak Aleut, that the Orthodox church school at St. Paul be reopened, that the practice of hiring Aleuts from other places for the seal harvests be stopped, and that the government agent at St. Paul "refrain from drinking intoxicating liquor if the Aleuts are prohibited to do so." The agent himself attached a note to the petition saying that the "people of St. Paul are living in actual slavery. This condition. exists and is maintained under the immediate control of the U.S. government."
The Pribilof Island Aleuts were finally granted citizenship in 1924, along with other Alaska Natives. They achieved some degree of self-government in 1934.
By 1980, the fur seal population of the Pribilof Islands had stabilized at about 1.7 million. The four-nation fur seal treaty, however, expired in 1981 but its provisions were continued until a new treaty could be negotiated. Conservation groups pushed to ban all fur seal killing. Scientists argued for a controlled harvest. For the 750 Aleuts on the Pribilof Islands, the fur seals were central to their economy. New markets for seal carcasses for use as dog food and crab bait developed.
Sea otters decimated before ban imposed on hunting them
Sea otters continued to be among the most prized furs that could be taken in Alaska. During Russian domination of the Alaskan fur trade, hunters took an average of 1,481 sea otter pelts each year. In the 40 years after the 1867 purchase of Alaska, American hunters took so many sea otter skins from Alaskan waters that their value exceeded the price the United States paid for Alaska. The number of kills rose each decade after 1867 until 1890.
Most otters were killed at sea. Aleut or Indian hunting parties aboard American and British schooners went after the otter in small boats to shoot them. Smaller parties, both Native and non-Native, also hunted sea otter on beaches and from small boats launched from the shore.
The chief buyer of sea otter skins, the Alaska Commercial Company, paid from $10 to $125 for skins, but discriminated against Natives in doing so. The company paid Aleut hunters with goods, giving, for example, coal valued at $40 a ton for skins that the company valued at $40 to $70. Non-Native hunters, paid in cash, received $80 to $125 for skins of the same quality.
It was clear by the early 1890s that sea otter hunting was going to end either when the otters had been completely killed off or when hunting otters was forbidden. Sea otters were seen only occasionally at Attu, once a populous otter area, after 1882. In the Kodiak district, hunters took a record high of 1,528 pelts in 1885 . By 1890, the Kodiak catch fell to a low of 60 skins. in 1896, the American schooner Challenge hunted there for 18 days without seeing a single sea otter.
The first effective conservation measures were imposed in 1906. Regulations issued that year required hunting ships to clear as for foreign voyages when leaving port to hunt sea otters. The regulations also limited hunting to not less than nine miles from shore. Only three American vessels outfitted for sea otter hunting under these conditions. Two, hunting on the Fairweather grounds off Yakutat, got 16 sea otters. The schooner Challenge, hunting off Amchitka Island, got four sea otters.
After the 1906 season, practically all sea otter hunting in Alaskan waters took place in the Kodiak district between Trinity and Chirikof islands and in the Sanak Islands. In 1910, 40 Aleut hunters on the two American vessels left in the trade took 16 sea otters. That same year, two British Columbia vessels took seven otters and 11 others were found killed or found dead on beaches.
Commercial sea otter hunting came to a formal end in 1911 because of the near extermination of the sea otter population in Alaska. The Fur Seal Treaty of that year agreed to by Great Britain, Japan, Russia, and the United States banned market hunting of sea otters. Only Alaska Natives could hunt the otter, and then only with aboriginal weapons such as spears. Since the Natives had given up their traditional uses of otters during the era of commercial hunting, few otter were taken after 1911. Later, further protection was extended to sea otters when a presidential executive order of March 3, 1913, established the Aleutian National Wildlife Refuge.
Sea otters were only occasionally sighted in Alaskan waters for many years after the ban on commercial hunting. By the 1980s, Alaska's sea otter population had re-established itself in the Gulf of Alaska and along the Aleutian Islands at about 150,000 animals.
Sea otters live in Monterey Bay year round and can be seen just offshore floating on their backs among the kelp or diving for a meal. Watch for sea otters all along the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail in Monterey and Pacific Grove. Otters are also commonly found off the shores of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. If you are traveling north, take time to stop near Moss Landing where a large population of otters can often be found relaxing together near Moss Landing State Beach and the Elkhorn Slough (approximately 15 miles north of Monterey).
In fact, you may spot otters right now on one of these live web cams:
About Sea Otters
Otters have the densest fur on earth and spend hours each day taking care of their fur. Because otters have up to a million hairs per square inch of fur, proper grooming is essential. Since otters don’t have blubber to keep them warm, their waterproof guard hairs and dense under layer of fur is vital to their survival in waters that average 55 degrees.
Unfortunately, the sea otter’s luxurious fur nearly resulted in the species’ extermination in the 1700s and 1800s. Today’s California sea otter population numbers about 2,800 and can be traced to a small group of 50 survivors found off the shores of Big Sur in 1938.
Otters are a keystone species, which means their disappearance would have major impact. If it weren’t for sea otters, sea urchin populations would decimate the Bay’s kelp forests that provide a protective canopy for numerous species. Thankfully, due to their high metabolism, sea otters constantly munch on crabs, clams and urchins. In fact, on a daily basis, otters eat up to 25 percent of their body weight, which would equal 40 pounds of food a day for the average human!
Otters often nap after wrapping themselves in strands of kelp so they don't drift away while they sleep.