Monday, July 5, 2010

The "Wild Animals" of Unalaska Island

Unalaska Island has numerous species of birds, some ground squirrels and marmots, and the surrounding ocean has sea lions, seals, sea otters, etc., in addition to fish, crabs, and so on. The island itself has no large mammals. There are no bears in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, which contributes to the place having an excellent reputation for stream salmon fishing. This being said, we need to discuss the "Wild Horses of Unalaska" and the "Wild Red Foxes."

There is a herd of about 17 wild horses out at the end of the road that runs past our house and past the land fill to the north point of the island. There, either in Summer Bay or Morris Cove, you can see the horses. They have roamed the area about 11 years now. How did they come to be there?

A children's book by a local author recounts the story that there was a black horse who lived out there alone for a few years. One of the local people did not take care of his grey horse, and the rumor was that when he returned from a long trip he was just going to shoot her. A young boy, hearing the story, took pity on the grey horse, befriended it, and cut it free. He then rode the horse out to Summer Bay and left it to join the black horse, which it did. The herd now has increased in size, mostly because other farm animals have been abandoned to the herd. (The black horse has died, but the grey one still lives there.) In spite of the harrowing winter conditions, the horses make it through the long, dark winters. In 2008 the stallions were gelded by volunteers and a visiting Veterinarian, as they do damage to the fragile tundra ecosystem, which is the property of Ounalashka Corporation and is also an Alaska Maritime Refuge. There has been talk of culling the herd, but many foiks strenuously object. It is popular for local folks to talk about how many horses they have seen when taking this drive. On this day our picture show the 8 that were present.

The red fox is somewhat illusive. Apparently at one time there were Arctic Foxes wild on the island, but they became extinct in this location. Red foxes were introduced in 1922 to farm for fur, and they escaped or were released into the wild in sufficient numbers to survive on their own. They are occasionally seen crossing a road (as in this picture), and one boldly came onto the front lawn of George's fishing partner and stole one of his felt fishing boot liners!

So come to look at the wildflowers or the birds, or come to fish, but don't plan on a hunting expedition to Unalaska!

No comments:

Post a Comment