Sparring bachelor fur seals on the northeastern shore of St. George Island.

Henry Wood Elliott: Defender of the Fur Seal (No. 112)

First Aired Thursday, January 12, 2006

In the twenty years following the United States' acquisition of the Alaska territory, revenues from the Pribilof Island fur seal harvest paid off the 7.2 million dollar purchase price. This documentary uncovers this little-known piece of American history told through the story of Henry Wood Elliott, an artist and naturalist who produced some of the earliest images of the Pribilof fur seal harvest, wrote the first detailed account of the northern fur seal's life history and who many regard as the man who saved the northern fur seal from extinction. Produced by Paul Hillman. 

The Alaska territory was acquired by the United States from Russia for its bountiful natural resources in 1867. While the Alaskan gold rush has become legendary in American history, little attention is given to the northern fur seal, a resource that brought millions of dollars to the US government over the next hundred plus years. By leasing the PribilofIsland fur seal harvest to private companies, the 7.2 million dollar purchase price of theAlaska territory was paid off during the first twenty years lease and today the northern fur seal population would likely be extinct if it weren’t for  Henry Wood Elliott: Defender of the Fur Seal. 

Henry W. Elliott visited the Pribilof many times in the late 1800s and was the first to intensely study the northern fur seal. He published the first detailed account of Alaskan fur seal life history and he initially saw the fur seal as a endless resource. However, after two decades of over-harvesting and the advent of pelagic sealing, Elliott returned to the Pribilof Islands to find the northern fur seal, his favorite subject for paintings and writings, all but extinct. He began a twenty-year battle against competing governments and the fur industry culminating in the first international wildlife conservation treaty. Defender of the Fur Seal

MontanaPBS

Henry Wood Elliott: Defender of the Fur Seal