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.