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Coordinates: 66°15′20″N 166°04′20″W / 66.25556°N 166.07222°W / 66.25556; -166.07222Coordinates: 66°15′20″N 166°04′20″W / 66.25556°N 166.07222°W / 66.25556; -166.07222
Country United States
State Alaska
Census Area Nome
Incorporated July 13, 1969
 • Total 7.27 sq mi (18.82 km2)
 • Land 2.34 sq mi (6.06 km2)
 • Water 4.93 sq mi (12.76 km2)
16 ft (5 m)
 • Total 576
 • Density 246.26/sq mi (95.08/km2)
Time zone UTC-9 (Alaska (AKST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-8 (AKDT)
ZIP code
Area code 907
FIPS code 02-69770
GNIS feature ID 1409434, 2418855

Shishmaref ( shish--ref; Inupiaq: Qikiqtaq Russian: Шишмарёв; IPA: [ʂɨʂmɐˈrʲɵf]) is a city in the Nome Census Area, Alaska, United States. It is located on Sarichef Island in the Chukchi Sea, just north of the Bering Strait and five miles from the mainland. Shishmaref lies within the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. The population was 563 at the 2010 census, up from 562 in 2000.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 7.3 square miles (19 km2), of which, 2.8 square miles (7.3 km2) of it is land and 4.5 square miles (12 km2) of it (61.62%) is water.

Shishmaref was named in 1821 by explorer Lt. Otto von Kotzebue, of the Imperial Russian Navy, after Capt. Lt. Gleb Shishmaryov who accompanied him on his exploration.

Sarichef Island (on which Shishmaref is located) is part of a dynamic, 100 km-long barrier island chain that records human and environmental history spanning the past 2000 years; the oldest subaerial evidence for the formation of this system is about 1700 years before present, according to carbon 14 dating (see References, below). Erosion at Shishmaref is unique along the islands because of its fetch exposure and high tidal prism, relatively intense infrastructure development during the 20th century, and multiple shoreline defense structures built beginning in the 1970s.

Global warming

The effect of global climate change upon Shishmaref is sometimes seen as the most dramatic in the world. Rising temperatures have resulted in a reduction in the sea ice which serves to buffer Shishmaref from storm surges. At the same time, the permafrost that the village is built on has also begun to melt, making the shore even more vulnerable to erosion. In recent years the shore has been receding at an average rate of up to 10 feet (3.3 m) per year. Although a series of barricades has been put up to protect the village, the shore has continued to erode at an alarming rate. The town's homes, water system and infrastructure are being undermined. Currently, Shishmaref has obtained funds to construct seawalls that protect some of the shoreline.

The village had plans to relocate several miles to the south, on the mainland to the Tin Creek site. However, Tin Creek proved unsuitable for long term settlement due to melting permafrost in the area. The Shishmaref Erosion and Relocation Coalition, made up of the city, the IRA Council and other organizations, is seeking federal, state and private funding for a move elsewhere. The cost of moving Shishmaref is estimated at $180 million, nearly $320,000 per resident. The village was told by the Obama administration that no federal money was available, therefore tensions arose in 2013 when John Kerry announced Vietnam would receive $17 million to deal with climate change.

Erosion rates along the island front exceed (and are not comparable with) those along adjacent sectors. Erosion is occurring along the entire island chain, but it is exacerbated at Sarichef Island in part because of the hydrographic impacts of hard armoring of a sandy shoreface and permafrost degradation that is accelerated by infrastructure. Residents are experiencing the effects of coastal retreat on residential and commercial properties.

On August 16, 2016, the village voted to move the town to the mainland.


Shishmaref is a traditional Inupiaq Eskimo village. Residents rely heavily on a subsistence lifestyle, hunting and gathering much of their food. Primary food sources include sea mammals such as oogruk (bearded seal), other seals and walrus, fish, birds (such as ptarmigan), caribou and moose. The village is well known in the region for its high-quality seal oil and fermented meat.

It is known for its Native art. Local carvings of whalebone and walrus ivory are sought after by galleries in Alaska and the Lower 48.

Shishmaref was home to one of Alaska's most-beloved dog mushers. Herbie Nayokpuk, known as the "Shishmaref Cannonball", died in December 2006. He finished the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race numerous times, including a second-place finish.

It is sometimes referred to as "the friendliest village in Alaska." Researchers, journalists and the occasional tourist visit Shishmaref, and the city has acquired a reputation for being a gracious host.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1920 131
1930 223 70.2%
1940 257 15.2%
1950 194 −24.5%
1960 217 11.9%
1970 267 23.0%
1980 394 47.6%
1990 456 15.7%
2000 562 23.2%
2010 563 0.2%
2020 576 2.3%
U.S. Decennial Census

Shishmaref first appeared on the 1920 U.S. Census as an unincorporated village. It formally incorporated in 1969.

As of the census of 2000, there were 562 people, 142 households, and 110 families residing in the city. The population density was 202.0 people per square mile (78.1/km2). There were 148 housing units at an average density of 53.2 per square mile (20.6/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 93.24% Native American (mainly Inupiat), 5.34% White, and 1.42% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.53% of the population.

Of the 142 households, 52.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.6% were married couples living together, 19.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 22.5% were non-families. 21.1% of all households were made up of individuals, and 4.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.96 and the average family size was 4.59.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 40.9% under the age of 18, 11.4% from 18 to 24, 29.4% from 25 to 44, 12.6% from 45 to 64, and 5.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 24 years. For every 100 females, there were 125.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 121.3 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $30,714, and the median income for a family was $29,306. Males had a median income of $35,357 versus $25,000 for females. The per capita income for the city was $10,487. About 16.2% of families and 16.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 21.2% of those under age 18 and 10.5% of those age 65 or over.


There are three main roads (Main Street-Airport Road, Housing Trail and Clinic Road) in town and do not connect to the outside beyond Shishmaref.

Shishmaref Airport is the only means of connecting the town to the rest of Alaska. The airport replaced an earlier airport which is now occupied by housing near the lagoon.

Local businesses and other places of interest

  • Shishmaref Native Store
  • Nayokpuk General Store
  • Post Office
  • Washeteria
  • Tannery
  • Friendship Center
  • New Airport
  • Bingo Hall
  • Church
  • City Offices
  • IRA Building


Shishmaref is served by the Bering Strait School District. Shishmaref School is the only school in town and serves grades Pre-K through 12 with a population of 183 students and 33 pre-school children. There are 19 teachers at Shishmaref School and is the largest and newest building in settlement.

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