Alaska September 19, 2017
These Remote Islands On The Edge Of Alaska Have A Dark Past
On the edge of the Aleutian Island chain lie the Rat Islands, a group of uninhabited volcanic islands far from the mainland. The islands lie within the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge . These islands have been ruled by rats for over 200 years. A recent effort to remove the rats has saved one of the islands, but the rest are still haunted by an infestation of invasive rats eating the wild birds and eggs. The Rat Islands in the Aleutian Chain have an interesting past, and remain an eerie piece of Alaska’s story.
Interactive Map of the Rat Islands here.
In 1780, a sinking Japanese ship crashed in the Aleutians, bringing with it the invasive Brown Norwegian Rat (Rattus norvegicus). The main island in the chain was known for over 200 years as Rat Island.
The rats rampaged through the virgin ecosystem, eradicating all but the largest native birds and occupying the island completely for over 200 years. This left the island eerily silent from the lack of birdsong.
The modern name of the islands was given by Captain Fyodor Petrovich Litke in 1827 when he visited on a voyage around the world. The islands are named so because of the rats that have ruled the islands since the shipwreck in 1780.
The main island was the site of was one of the world’s most ambitious attempts to remove destructive alien species from an island, a joint effort between the U.S. federal government, the Nature Conservancy and Island Conservation.
The $2.5 million Rat Island eradication project was conducted and helicopters dropped buckets of poison the island. As of 2009, Rat Island is believed to be rat free.
Since the rats have been gone, the populations of ground-nesting wild birds have returned. Lapland Longspur eggs lay safely in their nest, free from the predators that once all but eradicated the native bird populations.
Now there are signs that several species of birds, including Aleutian cackling geese, ptarmigan, peregrine falcons and black oystercatchers, are starting to nest again on the 10-square-mile island.
Black Oystercatchers in nest.
Snow Geese have been sited, a species absent during the rats rule.
Tufted Puffins are flourishing in the new rat-free environment.
In May 2012, Rat Island was renamed Hawadax Island, which is an Aleut name meaning "entry" and "welcome".
Although the rats are gone from Hadawax, invasive rats are also present on 16 other islands in the Aleutian chain. This infestation continues on the remote Rat Islands in Alaska.
For more information about the Aleutians, see
The Southernmost Town In Alaska That’s Both Wild And Beautiful.
Have you been to the Rat Islands? Tell us about it in the comments below.