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Wrangel Island

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Wrangel Island is an Arctic island in Chukotka in the Russian Far East. For its rare Arctic tundra bio-system, home to over 400 rare plant species (and big quantities of charismatic megafauna, like Pacific walrus, polar bears, and grey whales), it is one of Russia's UNESCO World Heritage sites.


Arctic tundra at the foot of the mountains


1764 was the first reported discovery of Wrangel Island by the Cossack Sergeant Stepan Andreyev. Calling it Tikegen Land, Andreyev found evidence of its inhabitants, the Krahay. Eventually, the island was named after Baron Ferdinand von Wrangel (1797–1870), who, after reading Andreyev's report and hearing Chukchi stories of land at the island's coordinates, set off on an expedition (1820–1824) to discover the island, with no success.

Since the mid 1800's there have been several landings and attempted landings on the island. Depending on the time of the year, access to the island can be manageable or virtually impossible.

The actual first recorded landing on the island was in 1866 by a German whaler, Eduard Dallmann.

Several expeditions in the later 19th and early 20th centuries proved fatal to the explorers involved, including the infamous 1921 expedition to the island funded by Vilhjalmur Stefansson. Canadian Allan Crawford, Americans Fred Maurer, Lorne Knight and Milton Galle, and Eskimo seamstress and cook Ada Blackjack left Alaska in 1921 to claim the island for Canada. On September 16th, 1921 the team was left on Wrangel Island with the promise a ship would relieve them with another crew in early 1922.

A schooner sent to pick up the crew became stuck in the ice in 1922 and the rescue was abandoned until the weather became better in 1923. During that time, however, the explorers quickly ran out of food on the island, and unable to capture game to survive on Crawford, Maurer and Galle set out on foot in January 1923 towards Siberia for help. The men were never seen again. Lorne Knight developed scurvy and died in April 1923 on the island.

Ada Blackjack was left alone, save for the cat Vic brought along with the men for company, and was forced to learn how to hunt and shoot game on the island to survive. She was eventually rescued on August 19th, 1923 when a ship made it to the island with a relief crew.


Suffering from a severe Polar climate, Wrangel Island has a barren look to it with little vegetation life. The island does not have trees, and the ground is mostly dry and hard in areas.

The island has over 900 lakes that, while salty, are considered to have the lowest amount of salt in the Arctic region.

Flora and fauna[edit]

Eight species of resident land mammals are found on Wrangel Island. Musk Ox and Reindeer were introduced, while the rest are considered to be endemic. Up to ten species of marine mammals call the waters surrounding Wrangel Island and neighbouring Herald Island home. Wrangel Island, the home of Polar Bears, is often referred to as the 'Polar Bear Maternity Ward'. Pacific Walrus feed in the shallow waters surrounding Wrangel Island in the mid summer. The playful and energetic Arctic Fox are plentiful on Wrangel Island. Reindeer on the Island were introduced 65 years ago and now number approximately 1500. Musk Oxen can also be found on the island.

A range of birdlife can be seen on Wrangel Island, 50 species regularly nest on the islands, with another 100+ passing through. Large colonies of seabirds can be found including Black-legged Kittiwake, Thick-billed Murres, Pelagic Cormorants, Black Guillemots. Horned and Tufted Puffins may be seen as well as teh Arctic Tern.

The Snowy Owl is the main bird of prey found on Wrangel Island. Shorebirds are common and waterfowl such as Snow Geese can be seen.


Russian icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov on its way to the island

Get in[edit]

Wrangel Island is difficult to get to independently. Access to the Wrangel Island reserve is strictly controlled. In summer, when ice conditions allow, occasional tourist ships stop in at the Island. Expedition ship, the Spirit of Enderby (Professor Khromov in Russian), run by Heritage Expeditions takes passengers on Wrangel Island Tours every July and August at least three separate expeditions. These expeditions take two weeks and start and finish in the Port of Anadyr , which is accessible by direct flight from Moscow, and also charter flight from Nome, Alaska.


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