Reaching from beyond the shores of the Arctic plain to the emerald isles of the southeast rainforest, Alaska’s Northern seas teem with life. Breaching whales break the water’s surface in tranquil bays and Steller’s sea lions laze on polished rock. Clear streams meet the sea in pristine estuaries. Sea otters and young salmon thrive in protected nurseries where kelp forests and beds of eelgrass grow toward the midnight sun.
These vast seas of the North Pacific are home to underwater menageries of life that share their natural wealth with pristine estuaries and miles upon miles of wild coastlines. In these magnificent habitats, myriad seabirds – horned puffins and thick-billed murres, red-legged kittiwakes and parakeet auklets – nest in cliffs above the sea.
The clear, cold depths of the Bering, Beaufort and Chukchi seas are home to unique species linked by the far North’s intricate marine food web: from multitudes of zooplankton to the mammoth bowhead whales that summer in these northern waters, to the spectacular concentrations of top-level marine predators. America’s only Arctic species – polar bear and walrus, beluga and spotted seal – rely on these healthy Arctic marine habitats.
In villages where generations upon generations of Native people have staked out healthy lives at the edge of the sea, traditional subsistence harvesting of the sea’s natural abundance continues to provide for families. Along the coasts of Alaska and Russia, this natural abundance helps sustain more than 100,000 people in hundreds of communities. Alaska’s rich marine life has a value beyond measure, but it’s also home to a seafood industry unrivaled by anyplace else on earth. The Bering Sea alone accounts for 50 percent of the domestic U.S. catch – valued at $1 billion a year. Alaska’s famed king crab and its voluminous pollock harvests come from these waters.
Despite the richness of the Bering Sea, concern about significant changes in the ecosystem is growing.