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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

The Mammals of the Pribilofs

October 21st, 2013 · No Comments

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The Pribilof Islands have the largest gathering of marine mammals in the world. In addition to seeing thousands of northern fur seals I also saw some Stellar sea lions and sea otters, but failed to see any walruses.

By contrast, land mammals are much less common. And only small numbers of three species of land mammals are native to the Pribilofs. Only two of these, the arctic fox and the shrew, live on Saint Paul Island. The other one, the lemming, lives only on Saint George Island, where I only landed at the airport.

While I saw arctic foxes several times, I didn’t see any shrews. One of my guides, Doug Gochfeld, found one when he turned a rock over, but the shrew scampered away before I could get there.

The scarcity of land mammals on these isolated islands doesn’t surprise me. What does surprise me is that some of their ancestors must have made a long, perilous journey over hundreds of miles of drift ice to get there. The progenitors of the arctic foxes native to the Pribilofs must have arrived thousands of years ago because they are generally darker than those found elsewhere, which are dark gray to bluish brown in the summer and white or creamy white in winter.

Not until my last full day there did I get close enough to arctic foxes for good photographs. And these were a whole family. Even better, the family included several quite cute pups.

These Arctic Fox Pups Are Only One or Two Months Old and May Never Have Seen a Camera Before

These Arctic Fox Pups Are Only One or Two Months Old and May Never Have Seen a Camera Before

Click on the picture above to enlarge

As I Walked Closer, Only this Pup Stood its Ground

As I Walked Closer, Only this Pup Stood its Ground

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Another species has lived on Saint Paul and Saint George Islands for so long that you might consider it to be almost native. Reindeer, close relatives of the caribou, were introduced more than 100 years ago, and now several hundred of them roam free. But natives can hunt them by permit, and the hunting season had just started at the time of my visit. Consequently, the reindeer made themselves scarce, and we didn’t see any until the day I left.

A Herd of Reindeer Warily Watches My Approach

A Herd of Reindeer Warily Watches My Approach

Click on the picture above to enlarge

The reindeer were far away, but after walking alone for half an hour through the tundra, I came close enough for this photograph of the herd.

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