However, exceptions are made for indigenous peoples.
Sealing continues to be practiced today by the inhabitants of the remote Pribilof Islands, and the Inupiat of Alaska.
The Pribilof Islands are located in the Bering Sea, about 300 miles west of the Alaska mainland and 240 miles north of the Aleutian Islands. The archipelago is comprised of St. Paul, with an area of 40 sq. miles, St. George, 27 sq. miles, and islets Otter Island, Sea Lion Rock and Walrus Island.
Almost 70% of the world's population of northern fur seals - approximately 800,700 animals - migrate each year to breed on the rocky shores of the Pribilofs.
St. George was discovered in 1786 by Russian navigator Gavriil Pribilof, ending a three-year search by Siberian merchants for the breeding site of the valuable fur seals. The following year, he discovered St. Paul, 47 miles to the north. The islands were uninhabited at the time, though Aleut oral history knew them as the rich hunting ground of Amiq.
The discovery of the Pribilofs prolonged the fur trade between Russia and America for another 80 years. Sea otters had been hunted close to extinction, and the discovery of the fur seals' rookeries brought a new source of wealth to Siberian traders. Aleuts were forcibly taken from the Aleutian Islands as seasonal laborers in the fur seal harvest, and by the 1820s, permanent settlements were created on both islands. Seals were ruthlessly killed until the Russian crown approved the Russian America Company as a licensed fur seal monopoly in 1799. By 1847, Russians had introduced conservation management for harvesting the seals, allowing takes only of non-breeding males aged 3-5.
After the 1867 sale of Russian-American territories to America, a series of monopolies continued sealing, often on an uncontrolled basis. High-seas sealing further depleted the numbers, and by 1910, the population had fallen to 250,000. In 1911, the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention was signed by the US, Japan, Russia and the UK (for Canada), prohibiting the taking of seals at sea. Thereafter the herd began a gradual recovery, peaking at about 2 million by 1950.
Pribilof sealing generated large revenues for the US government after it assumed responsibility for the seal industry in 1910. Total receipts from pelts surpassed the purchase price of the Alaska territories after only a few years. The Aleuts, however, did not thrive under government rule. They were treated as wards of the government, paid in kind for their work in the harvest, and experienced repression and discrimination by government agents. In 1942, the Aleuts were evacuated and interned in dilapidated fish canneries in south-eastern Alaska until the end of World War II, losing 10% of their population to poor living conditions, disease and malnutrition.
Exposure to the outside world led Pribilof leaders to sue the US government for fair wages and individual freedoms, granted under the 1966 Fur Seal Act. The Aleuts gained more political and economic control with passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. Village corporations were established, and local governance grew to include city councils, school board, and tribal councils (established under the Indian Reorganization Act).
Animal protection organizations pressured the US government to withdraw from the fur seal industry. Sealing ended on St. George in 1973, and on St. Paul in 1984, after the government failed to ratify the international fur seal convention.
Today, the Aleuts are allowed to take some 2,000 seals annually for subsistence purposes. The Pribilofs adapted to the loss of the seal industry by entering the flourishing Bering Sea bottom sea fishery, attracting government and industry capital to develop harbours, processing facilities and vessel supply operations. The Aleuts achieved a rapid, successful transition to a halibut fishery. However, decades of intensive fishing in the Bering Sea, combined with climatic changes, have led to population declines in over 17 species of marine mammals, fish and seabirds. Fur seals are listed as a depleted species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. A crash in the Opilio crab population has brought economic crisis to the Pribilof villages and in 2000, the Pribilofs were declared part of a federal disaster area. The bankruptcy of the airline servicing the Pribilof Islands has also made a small ecotourism industry much more vulnerable.
Today, the Pribilofs are home to the world's largest remaining Aleut communities, with 800 of a total Aleut population of 3,200. The Pribilof Aleuts have survived many challenges over two centuries: forcible relocation, influence and culture of two colonial nations, loss of aboriginal subsistence skills to a wage-based industry, and suppression of their language, religion, political structures and human rights. A local cultural movement is successfully connecting young Pribilovians to the fur seals that so defined their island culture. Community leaders are working to diversify their economy so that future generations of Aleuts will continue to call these islands home.