A Look Back: Bob “Sea Otter” Jones

Refuge Update November-December 2011
Robert D. Jones Jr
Bob “Sea Otter” Jones was the first manager of what is now Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
Credit: USFWS

The following is adapted from a reflection written by Vernon Byrd in 2001 to celebrate the removal of the Aleutian Canada goose from the endangered species list.

Robert D. Jones Jr. was an uncommon man. As a young army officer during World War II, Jones was among the first troops to go ashore at Adak in the central Aleutian Islands, that arc of submarine volcano peaks that extends from Alaska toward Siberia. He loved the treeless tundra, found the fierce winds invigorating and saw the snow-covered volcanic peaks as needing to be climbed.

Before the war, Jones had graduated from South Dakota State University with a degree in biology, and, in spite of the war, it was obvious to him how rich the area was in wildlife. He was hired as the first resident refuge manager of the Aleutian Islands National Wildlife Refuge in 1947 (now Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge).

One of his priorities was to try to remove introduced foxes from Amchitka Island – selected because of its extensive wetlands and grassy meadows – on the off chance that a few Aleutian Canada geese remained somewhere and could be saved from extinction.  With little more than his dory and his amazing energy and persistence, he spent the best part of 10 summers removing every last fox from Amchitka.

In 1962, Jones got the Coast Guard cutter Winona to drop him off near Buldir Island. He captured Aleutian Canada goslings at Buldir Island to form a captive flock, ultimately at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, for future reintroductions to the wild. His work provided the basis for the formal recovery program that was to come.

I met Bob Jones in 1968 when I reported to Adak as an ensign in the Navy. One of my duties was to coordinate wildlife issues on the base with the refuge staff. Bob was famous by then for his work on geese, caribou and sea otters, and he was known throughout the region as “Sea Otter” Jones. I was in awe.

Bob passed away in 1998. Although he never saw the notice of removing the Aleutian Canada goose from the endangered species list, he knew his work had been a success.

Vernon Byrd recently retired after almost 40 years with the Service, all of them in Alaska.