Port Moller, Moller Bay

Port Moller, Moller Bay

by | Dec 22, 2021

Port Moller is a small community clustered around a historical salmon cannery located on Moller Bay, an embayment on the Bering Sea coast of the Alaska Peninsula near the western margin of Bristol Bay, about 93 miles (150 km) northeast of King Cove and 87 miles (140 km) west-southwest of Chignik, Alaska. During the Last Glacial Maximum, most of the Alaska Peninsula was buried by a glacier complex composed of alpine glaciers, piedmont lobes, and ice caps that also formed the southeastern border of Beringia. Since deglaciation exposed the landscape, a series of active volcanoes have intermittently deposited layers of ash and pyroclastic flows. Numerous raised and relic beaches, wave-cut shorelines, erosion sur­faces, and high dune systems reflect a long history of relative sea-level change from glaciation, tectonism, and changing cli­matic regimes. The north coast of the Alaska Peninsula is a broad coastal plain that rises from the Bering Sea with coastal dunes and beach-ridge complexes common along the relatively straight and unprotected shoreline. Shallow lagoons are formed by barrier beaches along much of this shoreline. Glacially de­rived sediments mantle much of the coastal plain, with end moraines and ice stagnation topography comprising much of the local relief. The coastal plain rises to the inte­rior of the peninsula, where peaks of the Aleutian Range reach summit elevations between 9,850-13,100 feet (3,000-4,000 m). The Bering Sea coast of the lower Alaska Peninsula is one of the more environmentally productive landscapes in the North Pacific. During the fall, migrating waterfowl in the hundreds of thousands spend several months feeding on eelgrass in the lagoons of the lower Alaska Peninsula. The lagoons and near-shore waters support colonies of harbor seals, and the Bering Sea supports large populations of fur seals, sea lions, and whales. The uplands of the Alaska Peninsula support caribou herds and one of the densest populations of brown bears in Alaska. Bering Sea fisheries include over 40 exploited species with salmon, pollock, halibut, and Pacific cod being the most economically important. All five Pacific salmon species as well as steelhead trout are present in the region with millions of fish returning to spawn in the rivers and lakes each year.

In 1725, Tsar Peter the Great commissioned Vitus Bering to sail east from the Kamchatka Peninsula to explore the western Pacific and coast of Siberia on the First Kamchatka Expedition. In 1727, Bering sailed north on Saint Gabriel through the Bering Strait into the Chukchi Sea where he encountered an Arctic ice pack and returned to Kamchatka without seeing the North American mainland due to poor visibility. In 1732, Ivan Fyodorov and Mikhail Gvozdev sailed on Saint Gabriel from the Kamchatka River and through Bering Strait where they discovered the Diomede Islands but were met with a hail of arrows shot by Iñupiat. They continued further east toward Cape Prince of Wales and when they neared King Island, a Native came to their ship in a kayak and gave them information about the configuration of the Alaska coast on the east side of the Bering Strait. This voyage represents the first Russian contact with the American mainland and with Alaska Native people. There were more than 40 Russian exploratory ocean voyages made before 1867, and most took place between 1800 and 1850. Many were round-the-world voyages made primarily for political reasons and to carry goods and people to and from their American colonies, and at the same time finding out about ocean currents, and gathering data to make more accurate maps. In 1826-1829, Captain Friedrich Benjamin von Lütke, in command of the Russian corvette Seniavine and accompanied by Captain Mikhail Nikolaievich Staniukovich in command of the armed sloop Moller, made a voyage around the world. Lütke and Staniukovich sailed from Kronstadt near Saint Petersburg in September 1826 and arrived at Sitka in June 1827. They then sailed to Unalaska and cruised northward into the Bering Sea to survey and chart the coast. They overwintered in Honolulu and in the spring of 1828, Staniukovich returned to Alaska to survey the Bering Sea coast of the Alaska Peninsula. Staniukovich entered and explored the bay and named Port Moller after his ship. Staniukovich returned to Kronstadt in 1829, but despite the significant volume of collected data, an official account of the expedition was never published, partly because of a mutiny on the Moller during the voyage and the naval command did not want the reputation of the expedition to be tarnished. Instead, the government supported the publication of Lütke’s account on the Senaivin which garnered global accolades.

At the time of Russian expansion into the southern Bering Sea, the north coast of the Alaska Peninsula had been inhabited by Aleut Unangan for thousands of years and they had established large sedentary villages. After the Alaska Purchase in 1867, Ivan Petrof conducted a census and documented an ancient village of Aleuts living at a hot spring situated between Moller Bay and Herendeen Bay at the head of Port Moller. From 1873-1880, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey ship Yukon, a schooner specifically for Alaska service, made three trips to explore the waters of the Territory of Alaska including the Bering Sea. A particular focus of these trips was to correct the position of the various bays and islands, which were often misplaced by as much as 20 nautical miles (37 km) on Russian charts. Edward Perry Herendeen, a former whaling captain was sailing master. In 1898, Jefferson F. Moser on the U.S. Fish Commission ship USS Albatross visited Port Moller and found that a salmon saltery was operated by Captain Herendeen in 1886 or 1887. In 1912, Pacific American Fisheries built a cannery at Port Moller, and operations started in 1913 and continue today under the ownership of Peter Pan Seafoods. The seasonal community is based entirely on the operations of the salmon processing (freezing) plant. Approximately 400 individuals are present between May and September as seasonal workers including cannery employees and fishermen. The 100-year-old cannery was destroyed by fire in 2017, and Peter Pan Seafoods rebuilt the plant in 2018. The Port Moller Air Force Station was built in 1958 during the Cold War to support a Distant Early Warning Line radar station. The station was operated by Detachment 4, 714th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron based at Cold Bay, Alaska. The radar station was deactivated in September 1969, ending military use of the airport. The Air Force remediated the site around 2000, removing all abandoned military structures and returning the site to a natural condition. Read more here and here. Explore more of Port Moller and Moller Bay 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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