Selawik River, Kotzebue Sound

Selawik River, Kotzebue Sound

by | Apr 12, 2019

The Selawik River is about 140 miles (226 km) long, originating in the Purcell Mountains near the Zane Hills, and flows generally west through the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge to Selawik Lake, about 8 miles (13 km) northwest of the village of Selawik, Alaska. Selawik River is used for subsistence fishing by residents and for rafting and sport fishing by tourists. Selawik Lake is about 31 miles (50 km) across and is the third-largest lake in Alaska after Iliamna Lake and Becharof Lake. The lake drains into Hotham Inlet and Kotzebue Sound in the Chukchi Sea.

Selawik village is on the left bank of the Selawik River, about 70 miles (112 km) southeast of Kotzebue. The name was first reported in 1842 by Lieutenant L.A. Zagoskin, of the Imperial Russian Navy, who spelled it “Chilivik”. The Inupiat name comes from “siilvik” which means “place of sheefish” first published on a British Admiralty chart from 1854, possibly originating from one of the Sir John Franklin search expeditions. Sheefish are an anadromous whitefish widely distributed in Arctic rivers and important food. Around 1908, Selawik village had a small wooden schoolhouse and church. The village now has expanded across the Selawik River onto three banks linked by bridges.

This area is a transition zone where the northernmost boreal forests give way to open Arctic tundra. The approximately 21,000 lakes that occur in these lowlands create a large Arctic tundra lake complex. The network of freshwater and brackish lakes, riparian areas, and wetland meadows provide habitat for a variety of wildlife species. The Selawik and Kobuk River deltas, located on the eastern shores of Selawik Lake and Hotham Inlet, provide habitat for sheefish and migratory bird species. Read more here and here. Explore more of the Selawik Delta here:

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