Reindeer Island, Stefansson Sound

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Reindeer Island, Stefansson Sound

by | Dec 25, 2020

Reindeer Island is about 2 miles (3.2 km) long and is the westernmost of the six Midway Islands in Stefansson Sound on the Beaufort Sea coast, about 196 miles (316 km) southeast of Utqiaġvik and 21 miles (34 km) north of Deadhorse, Alaska. The island was named in 1910 by Ernest Leffingwell for the whaleship Reindeer. Stefansson Sound is named for Arctic explorer and ethnologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson. The Midway Islands are part of a chain of barrier islands extending westward from the delta of the Canning River. The islands are composed of sand and gravel that are pushed by ice from the shallow shelf. The prevailing easterly wind and waves move sediment westward from one barrier island to the next. The channels between islands are maintained by strong currents during the ice-free summer months.

In late June 1871, forty whaleships passed north through the Bering Strait hunting bowhead whales. By August, the vessels were at Point Belcher near Wainwright before a stationary high, parked over northeast Siberia, reversed the normal wind pattern, and pushed the pack ice toward the Alaskan coast. Seven ships were able to escape to the south at Icy Cape, but 33 others were trapped. Within two weeks the pack had tightened around the vessels, crushing four ships. The vessels were spread out in a long line for 60 miles (97 km) south of Point Franklin. By mid-September, 1,219 people aboard the ships were evacuated in small whaleboats with a three-month supply of provisions and were eventually brought to rescued with no casualties by the seven ships which had escaped the ice to the south.

Reindeer was a 450 ton three-masted bark with a length of 122 feet (37 m) built at Mattapoisett, Massachusetts in 1853. The ship was abandoned with 800 barrels of whale oil on September 14, 1871. In 1872, Reindeer was found about 5 miles (8 km) south of Point Belcher bilged and burned to the waterline. The bark Minerva was discovered intact and subsequently salvaged, but the rest of the fleet were crushed by ice, sank, or were stripped of wood by the local Iñupiat. The baleen was bought from the Iñupiat and the casks of oil that had washed ashore from Reindeer and other ships were recovered. Read more here and here. Explore more of Reindeer Island here:

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