The North Pacific Fur Seal Convention, the first international treaty that dealt with wildlife conservation issues, was signed.
Archaeological evidence indicates that seals have been hunted for their pelts, their flesh and their fat for over 4,000 years. By the end of the 19th century, however, industrialisation of hunting had brought a rapid decline in the seal population of the Bering Sea.
The USA had purchased Alaska and the surrounding islands in 1867, leading the American government to claim authority over the sealing industry in the region. This led to an increase in offshore or pelagic sealing that further reduced the seal populations.
Through arbitration Great Britain and the USA agreed to jointly enforce a series of hunting regulations designed to preserve the seal herds. It soon became clear that the terms of the agreement were not stringent enough to allow the seal populations to recover. Fearing the possibility of extinction if the situation was not dealt with, a joint commission of scientists from Britain and the USA advised on the creation of a new treaty.
Having been heavily influenced by the efforts of the young artist and environmentalist Henry Wood Elliott, the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention banned all pelagic seal hunting north of the 30th parallel in the Pacific Ocean. Management of on-shore commercial seal hunting within the region was also placed under the jurisdiction of the United States. As the treaty’s signatories, Britain, Japan, and Russia were guaranteed a payment or a minimum quota of seal furs in return.
The treaty stayed in place until the Second World War, but the restoration of peace saw the creation of new international agreements that regulated hunting in the interests of wildlife conservation.