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[This information was originally produced by Beverly Skinner, wildlife biologist at Innoko
National Wildlife Refuge (in west central Alaska), for radio broadcast on Public Radio stations
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 protects numerous plant and animal species in the
United States such as the bald eagle, the humpback whale and the small fragile Aleutian
Shield-fern found only on Adak Island. But long before there was an Endangered Species
Act, two of Alaska's unique animals species, the Spectacled cormorant and the Steller's
sea cow disappeared forever. Both were wiped out even before a photograph could be taken
of them. Both are now extinct.
The spectacled cormorant was a large, nearly flightless seabird. Because of the lack of
natural predators on it's native islands on the western end of the Aleutian chain, the
spectacled cormorant didn't need the power of flight in order to survive on land. Like
the cormorants of today, they probably spent their time swimming underwater in pursuit
of food; coming to land only to dry their feathers and to nest.
In 1741, Vitus Bering and his crew of explorers were shipwrecked on one of the
cormorants' tiny islands in the western Aleutians.
Bering and many of his men eventually died on that island but Georg Steller, the ship's
naturalist, survived. The scientific world today is aware of the now extinct spectacled
cormorant only because of Steller's careful observations of the birds. What killed off the
spectacled cormorant? Being flightless and slow moving on land, these seabirds were easy
for the shipwrecked sailors to kill and eat. Later, as the islands were visited by whalers,
fur traders and transplanted Aleut Natives, the spectacled cormorant was quickly wiped out
for food and for their water resistant feathers.
The Steller sea cow, Alaska's other extinct species, was also discovered by Georg Steller
and was consequently named after him. Steller sea cows weighed almost 9,000 pounds and were
25 feet long and 22 feet around. They were found along the route Vitus Bering had charted
past the Aleutian islands to the main lands of Alaska. The gentle sea cows were quickly
wiped out by the sailors, seal hunters and fur traders who followed Bering's path. All
total, - from discovery by Steller, to extinction forever, - took only 27 years.
For Alaska Naturally and the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge,
this is Beverly Skinner. Plant and animals species
have naturally gone extinct since the beginning of time. Because of this, many people ask -
why try to save endangered species? This question is answered quite eloquently in the
preamble to the Endangered Species Act. It states that endangered fish, wildlife, and
plants - "are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational and scientific
value to the Nation and its people."
Note: This is the MapCruzin.com archive of the FWS Arctic National Wildlife Refuge website. In December, 2001 FWS took this website offline, making it unavailable to the public. It includes 90 plus pages of information and many maps. As of 2006 the important information contained in this, the original "unsanitized" version of the FWS website, has yet to return to the internet, so we will continue to maintain it here as a permanent archive to help inform activists and concerned citizens. If you find any broken links, please report them to me at [email protected] and I will attempt to make the repairs. January, 2008 update - A small part of the original information that was present in 2001 has made it back into the current ANWR website. There is also an archive that contains a small amount of the original information, but it is not readily available from the main website.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. Potential impacts of proposed oil and gas
development on the Arctic Refuge’s
coastal plain: Historical overview and
issues of concern. Web page of the Arctic National
17 January 2001. http://arctic.fws.gov/issues1.html
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