When Native Rights, Conservation, and a Very Lucrative Fishery Collide

"In the fast-changing Bering Sea, a small tribe makes a big push to save their island"

"The island sentinels moved through the tundra grass, fast and silent. Wind blew the rain sideways. As the sentinels reached the tundra's edge, the animals caught wind of them and began to flop away en masse. The team slid down a steep bank of sand to the beach, carrying their long noose-poles like spears.

One by one, three nooses looped around the neck of a young northern fur seal, pinning him down. He bellowed hoarsely, baring pink mouth and white teeth. A plastic packing band was deeply embedded in his neck. Baby seals love to play with packing bands—they often poke their heads in, get stuck, and grow into the bands until they are lacerated or strangled. It's assumed most die before they are ever found.

Chelsea Kovalcsik, a graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the group's disentanglement coordinator, snipped the band. The little seal used his first free breaths to roar back at his former captors, then galumphed—much faster now—over to his clan and disappeared into the brown mass."

Kate Golden reports for Sierra magazine with illustrations by Lily Nie March 27, 2023.

Source: Sierra, 03/29/2023