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Aleutian World War II National Historic Area History

Birthplace of Winds - Cradle of Storms

Like precarious stepping stones, the Aleutian Islands span the seas between the New and Old worlds - reaching westward from the Alaska Peninsula to within 500 miles of the Asian peninsula of Kamchatka. Situated between the Bering Sea and the Pacific Ocean, along the seam of the Pacific and American geologic plates, this 1,100 mile long archipelago has been, and continues to be, the locus of climatic and tectonic events.

Conflicting weather systems generated in the bordering seas are responsible for severe cyclonic storms, heavy rains, and dense, impenetrable fog. Yearly precipitation averages fifty inches, with measurable rainfall occurring 200 days per annum. The Aleutian Chain's foundation of shifting geologic plates results in active volcanism and earthquakes - the birth processes of the islands themselves. The Aleutians betray their violent origins in their rugged landscape: mountainous terrain, precipitous coastlines, and black sand beaches. It is thought that at least twenty-six of the Chain's fifty-seven volcanoes have erupted within the past two centuries. Yet, this dramatic environment supports the largest concentration of marine mammals in the world and a nesting seabird population greater than that found in the rest of the United States combined. The volcanologist, Thomas Jagger, commented on the newest Aleutian Island in 1906-the still smoking Bogoslof: The sea was full of fish, the beaches were full of sea lions, the hot lava and air were full of birds. Thus life and deadly volcanism lived together.

Such proliferation of wildlife drew humans to the island chain as early as 8,000 years before present. By 4,000 years before present a great maritime nation had arisen, one adapted to efficiently exploit a single subsistence resource: the sea. From their skin boats, Aleut hunters harvested whales and pinnipeds-the sea lion, sea otter, and seal; sea birds were taken and their eggs collected; women fished for spawning salmon and scoured the rich intertidal zone for shellfish, seaweed, and driftwood. From the waters not only came their food, but the raw materials for the vast majority of their manufactured goods, garments, and tools. The sophisticated technology the Aleut developed to harvest the ocean was unparalleled; their ability to do so remarkable, considering their environment. In 1741, the Aleut, their island homeland, and the rich waters which constituted their livelihood were first seen by European eyes.

Amaknak Island Landscape

June through August, wildflowers cover the lush spongy subarctic tundra. Wild iris, orchids, violets, and alpine azalea are but a few of the island's species that attract botanists and artists. In the fall, bushes are heavys with salmon berries and blue berries and the streams are full of salmon. Birding in the Aleutians is world renown. Unalaska is one of the only places in the world to see the whiskered auklet. Puffins, cormorants, ancient murrelets and birds in breeding plumage, especially the snow bunting, can be seen in Unalaska. Sport fishing is very popular and charter boats regularly land record halibut. The Aleutian Islands are among the world's richest fishing grounds.

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