Endangered Site: Herschel Island, Canada

An abandoned island off the coast of the Yukon Territory holds a unique place in the history of the Pacific whaling industry

In 1908, the whaling industry collapsed and Herschel Island was deserted. (Loetscher Chlaus / Alamy)
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Damage to Herschel Island's flora and fauna would represent another major loss. Visitors rave about the gorgeous wildflowers and uncommon combination of wildlife. The island is one of the few spots on Earth where black, polar and grizzly bears share the same habitat. There are also moose, musk oxen and caribou, as well as bowhead and beluga whales. "It's the only place I know where you will have the whole food chain hanging out together," Pollard says.

William Fitzhugh, head of the Smithsonian Institution's Arctic Studies Center, sees Herschel Island as just the tip of a melting iceberg, as many other Arctic archaeological sites have begun disappearing. "We're losing a lot of the Arctic record much faster than we were before," he says.

But Doug Olynyk, manager of Yukon's historic sites, puts the potential loss of Herschel Island and other archaeological sites in a broader, vastly more worrisome, perspective. "It will be sad that people won't be able to experience Herschel Island in its true glory, years from now," he says. "But once Manhattan starts being flooded, I don't think people will care about Herschel Island."

About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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