Northern fur seals like these beauties in the Pribilof Islands, in the Bering Sea, were the beneficiaries of the world's first international wildlife conservation treaty. In fact, the animals protected weren't like these beauties—they were these beauties! This photo was taken in the Pribilof Islands in 1911, just months after the U.S., U.K., Japan, and Russia agreed to a sealing moratorium.

Photograph by C. Hart Merriam, National Geographic

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    On July 7, 1911, United States, United Kingdom, Japan and Russia signed an agreement that limited the hunting of fur seals around the Pribilof Islands, off the coast of what is now Alaska. The treaty outlawed all hunting of fur seals in the ocean around the islands, and gave the U.S. the right to manage all on-shore hunting. The North Pacific Fur Seal Convention of 1911 is usually recognized as the first international wildlife conservation treaty.
    The Pribilof Islands are a major rookery, or breeding ground, for northern fur seals. In the 19th century, northern fur seals and other marine mammals, such as sea otters, had been hunted nearly to extinction for their thick fur coats. The population of northern fur seals was about 4.5 million in 1870. By the time of the treaty, there were only about 200,000 left. 
    The 1911 treaty was truly groundbreaking. The parties not only agreed to limit future seal hunts, they also agreed to stop hunting entirely for five years to allow the population of northern fur seals to recover. The treaty also made an exception for indigenous people who hunted seals using traditional methods. 
    Today, treaties such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 provide even greater protection to northern fur seals, and their population has rebounded in the Pribilof Islands.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    breeding ground Noun

    place where animals mate, give birth, and sometimes raise young.

    coast Noun

    edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: coast
    conservation Noun

    management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.

    Encyclopedic Entry: conservation
    exception Noun

    unusual occurrence that doesn't follow the general procedures or associations.

    extinction Noun

    process of complete disappearance of a species from Earth.

    fur Noun

    thick hair covering the skin of an animal.

    groundbreaking Adjective

    innovative or pioneering.

    hunt Verb

    to pursue and kill an animal, usually for food.

    indigenous people Noun

    ethnic group that has lived in the same region for all of their known history.

    international Adjective

    having to do with more than one country.

    manage Verb

    to control or organize a situation or activity.

    marine mammal Noun

    an animal that lives most of its life in the ocean but breathes air and gives birth to live young, such as whales and seals.

    outlaw Verb

    to make illegal or against the law.

    protect Verb

    to take action to prevent injury or attack.

    recognize Verb

    to identify or acknowledge.

    rookery Noun

    breeding site for birds or other animals.

    tradition Noun

    beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.

    treaty Noun

    official agreement between groups of people.

    wildlife Noun

    organisms living in a natural environment.