Akutan Village, Akutan Island

Akutan Village, Akutan Island

by | Feb 6, 2022

Akutan is a community situated on the northern shore of Akutan Harbor on Akutan Island, one of the Krenitzin Islands in the Fox Islands group of the Eastern Aleutians, about 766 miles (1,233 km) southwest of Anchorage and 35 miles (56 km) east of Unalaska, Alaska. The Aleut name for the island was first reported by Captain Pyotr K. Krenitsyn in 1768. It was spelled ‘Acootan’ by Captain James Cook in 1785. This name may be from the Aleut word ‘hakuta’ which, according to linguist Richard H. Geoghegan, means ‘I made a mistake’. The Aleutian Arc consists of a number of active and dormant volcanoes that have formed as a result of plate subduction along the Aleutian Trench. Although taking its name from the Aleutian Islands, this term is a geological grouping rather than a geographical one, and the Aleutian Arc extends through the Alaska Peninsula following the Aleutian Range to the Aleutian Islands. Akutan Island is approximately 18 miles (30 km) long from east to west and 10 miles (16 km) wide from north to south with a land area of 82,566 acres (33,413 ha). The island is dominated by Akutan Volcano, a stratovolcano with a summit elevation of 4,275 feet (1,303 m) at Akutan Peak. Akutan is one of the most active volcanos in the Aleutians with 33 known historical eruptions, the most recent in 1992. Akutan has a caldera 1.2 miles (2 km) in diameter that formed during a major explosive eruption about 1,600 years ago. A lava flow in 1978 traveled through a narrow breach in the north caldera rim to within 1.2 miles (2 km) of the coast. The island coastline is mostly volcanic rocks including a considerable amount of columnar basalts. There are two abandoned beach deposits on the north shore of Akutan Harbor that provide some of the only level ground in the bay and one is occupied by the village of Akutan and the other by Trident Seafoods.

The Aleutian Islands form a chain extending more than 1,200 miles (1,931 km) from the Alaska Peninsula to the Asian continent. The island archipelago separates the Bering Sea to the north from the Pacific Ocean to the south. The indigenous people who settled along the archipelago are referred to as Aleuts or Unangan in their own language which means ‘coastal people’. The archipelago has been inhabited for at least 8,700 years by maritime hunters whose culture is similar to the Iñupiat. The Aleut language is thought to have diverged from the Iñupiat language about 4,000 years ago. In 1741, when contact was made with Russian explorers, the Aleut population numbered about 12,000-16,000 mostly concentrated in the eastern islands where there is a greater abundance of food. On Akutan Island, the Unangan people historically inhabited a village called Siskena that was located at the northeast corner of the mouth of Akutan Harbor. Traditionally, Unangan men hunted seals, whales, sea lions, sea otters, and sometimes walruses from baidarkas, a skin-on-frame boat also called Aleutian kayaks. The women gathered fish, birds, eggs, wild plants, and shellfish. The wild plants included berries, roots, and grasses used for weaving baskets. Russian occupation of the islands was focused on the maritime fur trade and this brought about large population displacements and cultural changes for the Unangan people. The Russian trading companies treated the Unangan people poorly, and most men were forced into a life of indefinite servitude as sea otter hunters. After the Alaska Purchase in 1867, which transferred the territory from Russia to the United States, the Unangan population had decreased to about 2,000 mostly from violence and diseases. In 1878, the Western Fur & Trading Company established a fur storage and trading post at the present-day site of Akutan village. A Russian Orthodox Church and a school were built and within a year the village at Siskena and several villages on neighboring Akun Island moved to Akutan. The church was replaced in 1918 by the Saint Alexander Nevsky Chapel. In June 1942, the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked Unalaska, and the U.S. government evacuated Akutan residents to the Ketchikan area. The village was re-established in 1944, although many villagers chose not to return.

The Native Village of Akutan is now a federally recognized tribe under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, and part of the Eastern Aleutian Tribes. Akutan is a fishing community and includes the site of the Unangan village with about 75 year-round residents and a neighboring seafood processing plant operated by Trident Seafoods. During the fishing season, most of the population are transient fish processing workers that live in company housing. Trident’s fish processing plant is a remote facility and therefore entirely self-reliant. The proximity to Bering Sea fishing grounds has made it the largest seafood production facility in North America. With more than 1,400 employees during peak seasons, Akutan sustains a year-round seafood operation capable of processing more than 3 million pounds (1,360,777 kg) of raw fish per day. The plant specializes in processing Alaska pollock, the most abundant whitefish in the Bering Sea and the plant also processes significant volumes of Pacific cod, Alaska king and snow crab, and halibut. The Alaska pollock is a semi-pelagic schooling fish widely distributed in the North Pacific with the largest concentrations found in the eastern Bering Sea. The pollock is actually a cod but has been successfully marketed and is known internationally by the pollock trade name. Pollock are considered planktivores and mainly feed on copepods. They exhibit vertical movement during the day, known as diel migration, and seasonal changes in depth that correspond to the seasonal movement of their prey. About 3 million tons of Alaska pollock are caught each year in the North Pacific from Alaska to northern Japan. Alaska pollock landings are the largest of any single fish species in the U.S, with the average annual Eastern Bering Sea catch between 1977 and 2014 being 1.2 million tons. Each year’s quota is adjusted based on stock assessments conducted by the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center. Read more here and here. Explore more of Akutan 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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