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Harriman Expedition Retraced



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Community Profile: Dutch Harbor/ Unalaska


Dutch Harbor is a small port for the town city of Unalaska located on Amaknak Island. The town is connected to the larger Unalaska Island by bridge. Dutch Harbor sits below the green rises of Makushin Volcano, and looks out onto Iliuliuk Bay.

Dutch Harbor

Dutch Harbor (Photo by National Ocean Service, NOAA).
Click image for a larger view.

Location: Lat. 53E 52' N, Long.166E 32' W

Area: 116 square miles

Population: 4,283

Industry: Fishing, fish processing, fleet services

Access: Air, water, bi-monthly summer ferry

Alaska Native Affiliation: Unangan/Aleut

Alaska Native Regional Corporation: Aleut Corporation

Weather: Winter temperatures range between 25 and 35 degrees, summer between 43 and 53 degrees Fahrenheit. Average annual precipitation is 57.7 inches.

Historical Overview

  • The Unangan people, the first inhabitants of Unalaska Island, lived at the mouth of a salmon-filled stream, protected from the sea by a natural land spit. They called this area "Iliuliuk" a word that means both "to live in harmony" and "curved bay." Unangans lived in sod houses called "barabaras." Archaeologists have found remnants of barabaras that are 6,000 to 8,000 years old.
  • Eighteenth century Russian explorers encountered one of the largest human communities in the Aleutians on Unalaska. The Russians systematically enslaved the Aleuts, putting them to work in the Aleutians and, eventually, in the Pribilof Island fur seal harvest.
  • The Russian missionary Father John Veniaminov, canonized as St. Innocent after his death, spent a decade on Unalaska. He argued for fair treatment of the Aleuts, composed the first Aleut grammar and alphabet, and built the Holy Ascension Russian Orthodox Church was built in Dutch Harbor. The church, consecrated in 1826, was built with California redwood supplied by the Russian-American Company. The church is the oldest Russian Orthodox Church in North America.Japanese warplanes bombed Dutch Harbor in 1942. Twenty Japanese planes descended on the military base that had been highly fortified after Pearl Harbor, and destroyed the dock and part of the Native Hospital.
  • Many Aleuts were interned in squalid camps in southeastern Alaska, ostensibly to protect them from Japanese bombing. In 1989, 400 internment camp survivors were awarded reparations of $12,000 each, roughly $16 for every day spent in the camps.

Harriman's Visit

  • The Elder stopped at Dutch Harbor for coal and water. The town was headquarters for the North American Commercial Company, a fur seal harvesting operation. Dutch Harbor was also a stop for prospectors making their way to Nome.
  • The ever-seasick John Burroughs was disturbed by the stories prospectors told of the rough and stormy Bering Sea. He took lodgings with a young woman who could provide him with fresh eggs and a dry bed, and intended to sit out the last leg of the Elder's voyage. But John Muir and Charles Keeler caught him as he left the ship and ushered him back up the gangplank. Muir poked fun at the timid Burroughs, but Keeler, perhaps out of guilt, sat with the old man and read him poetry during his bouts of seasickness on the Bering Sea.


  • Dutch Harbor's economy was built first on a sea otter artel run the the Russian American Company, then on servicing miners on their way north, and, in the 1940s, on the major military operations that took place there. The current economy is based on a rich fishing industry, and on servicing the large fishing fleets that troll the rich waters of the Gulf and Bering Sea. The port consistently ships more seafood than any other port in the United States.

Community Issues

  • Commercial fishing, especially in unforgiving Alaska waters, is one of the most hazardous professions in the world. Occupational safety takes on new meaning when the seas are running high and the half-ton booms are swinging wildly across the deck. On April 2, 2001 the Arctic Rose, a fishing boat from Dutch Harbor, went down in eight-foot seas with 15 men aboard. The boat was about 200 miles northwest of St. Paul Island. After a thorough search, the bodies of the captain and one crewman were recovered. The ship and remaining crew were never found. This was the largest fishing boat disaster since the early 1980s, a dramatic reminder of the danger that underlies the fishing industry in Unalaska.

(View the Dutch Harbor/Unalaska daily log entry)




For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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