Whether navigating Arctic waters, landing wooden dories on surf-battered shorelines, or advocating for conservation amid eminent wartime threats, Robert “Sea Otter” Jones persevered through some of the most adverse conditions to research and restore waterfowl and other wildlife populations along the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands. A native of South Dakota, Jones first encountered the Aleutian Islands as an officer in the U.S. Army during World War II. While his fellow soldiers dreamt of home, Jones explored the island chain’s rolling tundra and jutting peaks. In 1948, he joined the Fish and Wildlife Service as the first manager of the Aleutian Islands National Wildlife Refuge. There, he led efforts to return northern sea otters to their former range—thereby earning his nickname—and conducted ground-breaking work on the black brant. In 1962, as manager of the newly established Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Jones recovered the last remaining population of Aleutian Canada geese by initiating a captive breeding program. As a result of his efforts, the species now nests throughout most of its former range with a population approaching 40,000. After over three decades of pioneering work, mostly in remote and unforgiving landscapes, Jones’ contributions live on in the vigor and sustainability of this world-renowned region and the inspiration he offers to modern day conservationists to continue to safeguard nature’s precious resources even in the face of adverse and challenging conditions.
“To a biologically oriented individual, there is no better place on earth [than Cold Bay, Alaska], and few that will match it. It is alive with creatures. . . just never away from wildlife there. It’s the place where it is at, as some of my friends would say. “