Chukchi Sea Shelf

The Chukchi Sea Shelf or Chukchi Shelf is the westernmost part of the continental shelf of the United States and the easternmost part of the continental shelf of Russia. Within this shelf, the 50-mile Chukchi Corridor acts as a passageway for one of the largest marine mammal migrations in the world.

The main geological features of the Chukchi Shelf are the Hope Basin and the Herald Thrust, a basement uplift cored by Cretaceous thrust faults. The latter is named after Herald Island. Off the northwestern Alaskan coast there is a Jurassic rift basin, the Hannah Trough.[1] To the north of Alaska the Chukchi Shelf extends to form the Chukchi Plateau which protrudes into the Arctic Ocean geological zone.

The Chukchi Shelf is shared between Russia and the United States according to the 1990 USSR–USA Maritime Boundary Agreement.

50-Mile Chukchi CorridorEdit

The Chukchi Corridor is a 50-mile wide strip of ocean offshore of Northwest Alaska that acts as a passageway for one of the largest marine mammal migrations in the world.


Following the Chukchi Sea coast, the Chukchi Corridor stretches from Point Hope, Alaska to Utqiagvik, Alaska. From winter through early summer, the area is covered in sea ice with recurring openings in the ice that allow wildlife to migrate north from the Bering Sea to areas of the Chukchi or Beaufort seas during spring and early summer[2]


The Chukchi Sea coastline serves as an essential corridor for marine mammals like bowhead whales, beluga whales, Pacific walrus, and bearded seals.[3][4][5] It is also an important hunting area for indigenous subsistence hunters. This region includes biologically important gray whale feeding and reproduction habitats[6] Many bird species navigate the Chukchi Corridor to migrate to the North Slope for summer breeding[7]

As a region with substantial seafloor productivity, the Chukchi Corridor is an important nursery habitat for forage fish species, Arctic cod, and Saffron cod. Saffron and Arctic cod are critical to the Arctic marine food web.[8][9][10]


The Chukchi Corridor is an extremely important region for subsistence hunting for the communities of Point Hope, Point Lay, Wainright, and Utqiagvik, Alaska. Studies show that Inupiaq rely extensively on areas in the Chukchi Corridor for hunting throughout the year.[11]

The National Marine Fisheries Service designated areas along the entire Chukchi coast out to 15–30 miles offshore as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) for saffron cod.[8] In 2001, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated Ledyard Bay as critical habitat for spectacled eiders.[12]

Currently, part of the corridor is protected from oil and gas activities. On January 27, 2015, President Obama, using his authorities under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, permanently withdrew the waters 3 to 25 miles offshore from future oil and gas leasing activities.[13] This action leaves the valuable waters 25 to 50 miles offshore unprotected.


  1. ^ Sherwood K., "Structure of Hanna Trough and Facies of Ellesmerian Sequence, U.S. Chukchi Shelf, Alaska", Geological Society of America, 2006.
  2. ^ Eicken H., L. Shapiro, A. Gaylord, A. Mahoney, and P. Cotter, "Mapping and Characterization of Recurring Spring Leads and Landfast Ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas", US Department of the Interior, 2005. Retrieved 16-09-2016.
  3. ^ Quakenbush L., R. Small, and J. Citta "Satellite tracking of bowhead whales: Movements and analysis from 2006 to 2012", Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Outer Continental Shelf Study, 2013. Retrieved 16-09-2016.
  4. ^ Suydam R., F. Lowry, and K. Frost, "Distribution and Movements of Beluga Whales from the Eastern Chukchi Sea Stock During Summer and Early Autumn", Coastal Marine Institute and US Department of Interior, Minerals Management Service, 2005. Retrieved 16-09-2016.
  5. ^ Berchok C., J. Crance, E. Garlan, J. Mocklin, P. Stabeno, J. Napp, B. Rone, A. Spear, M. Wang, and C. Clark, "Chukchi Offshore Monitoring In Drilling Area (COMIDA): Factors Affecting the Distribution and Relative Abundance of Endangered Whales and Other Marine Mammals in the Chukchi Sea", Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Outer Continental Shelf Study, 2015. Retrieved 16-09-2016.
  6. ^ Clarke J., Ferguson M., Curtice C., and Harrison J., " Biologically important areas for cetaceans within U.S. waters - Arctic Region", Aquatic Mammals, 2015. Retrieved 16-09-2016.
  7. ^ Schmutz J., and Rizzolo D., "Monitoring Marine Birds of Concern in the Eastern Chukchi Nearshore Area (Loons)", United States Geological Service, 2012. Retrieved 16-09-2016.
  8. ^ a b North Pacific Fishery Management Council, "Fishery Management Plan for Fish Resources of the Arctic Management Area", North Pacific Fishery Management Council, 2009. Retrieved 16-09-2016.
  9. ^ Craig P., Griffiths B., Haldorson L., and McElderry H., "Ecological studies of Arctic cod (Boreogadus saida) in Beaufort Sea coastal waters, Alaska", Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 1982. Retrieved 16-09-2016.
  10. ^ Whitehouse G., "Preliminary mass-balance food web model of the eastern Chukchi Sea", National Marine Fisheries Service, 2013. Retrieved 16-09-2016.
  11. ^ National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska Working Group, ["Point Hope synopsis, In Native Livelihood and Dependence: A Study of Land Use Values through Time"], U.S. Department of the Interior, 1979. Retrieved 16-09-2016.
  12. ^ U.S. Department of Interior, "Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Final Determination of Critical Habitat for the Spectacled Eider; Final Rule", U.S. Department of Interior Federal Register, 06-02-2001. Retrieved 19-09-2016.
  13. ^ Obama, B. "Presidential Memorandum -- Withdrawal of Certain Areas of the United States Outer Continental Shelf Offshore Alaska from Leasing Disposition", Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, 27-01-2015. Retrieved 16-09-2016.

Further readingEdit