Five Finger Lighthouse, Stephens Passage

Five Finger Lighthouse, Stephens Passage

by | May 29, 2020

Five Finger Islands are at the southern entrance to Stephens Passage, 67 miles (108 km) east-northeast of Sitka and 41 miles (66 km) northwest of Petersburg, Alaska. The descriptive name was given in 1869 by Commander R.W. Meade of the U.S. Navy, presumably for their appearance from certain perspectives. A lighthouse was built here by the U.S. government that opened on March 21, 1902, and it became the last lighthouse in Alaska to be automated on August 14, 1984.

In 1901, a contract was awarded to construct a lighthouse on the southernmost of the Five Finger Islands. The wooden rectangular lighthouse with a square tower was completed in 1902. Atop the tower was a lantern room with a fourth-order Fresnel lens that produced a fixed white light. The original wooden structure burned down in December 1933 and was replaced in 1935 with an Art Deco design reinforced-concrete structure. The new building was a square one story high structure with a basement, and a square tower extending 13 feet (4 m) high from the center of the building. The basement includes space for engine generators, storage battery, motor compressors, air receivers, coal room, boiler room, and a storage room. The basement doors opened out onto a concrete wharf constructed so that the walls form a water cistern.

When the light was automated in 1984, subsequent budget cuts prompted the Coast Guard to lease its lighthouses to non-profit organizations. The Five Finger Lighthouse Society was formed in 1997, and that same year it obtained a 35-year lease on Five Finger Lighthouse. In 2011, members of the Alaska Whale Foundation spent five weeks at the lighthouse monitoring humpback whales and investigating how vessel noise affects the whale’s behavior. On good days, the team was tracking up to 100 whales in Fredrick Sound. The foundations now plan to maintain a whale research station at the lighthouse. Read more here and here. Explore more of Five Finger Islands here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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