Alaska News

Kiss the moniker Rat Island goodbye; hello Hawadax.

Rat Island -- or these days, Hawadax Island -- is one in a group of nine uninhabited volcanic land masses in the far west of Alaska's Aleutian chain. The island group, collectively referred to as the Rat Islands, was the first place in Alaska that was home to the resourceful brown rat.

It all happened on a day in 1780 when a Japanese sailing ship ran aground off the coast of the archipelago. Some of the on-board rat population survived and quickly made the islands home. Once settled, the rats feasted on the eggs of the native seabirds and seriously crippled its population.

Today Hawadax is rodent free, unlike some of its neighboring islands. In 2008, wildlife managers eradicated the rodent population by dropping rat poison on the island from buckets transported by helicopter. Some $2.5 million later, the U.S. government-backed project can boast success and justify renaming the original Rat Island to something a little more agreeable.

Hawadax (pronounced "how-ah-thaa") is a traditional Aleut word meaning "entry" and "welcome." Alaskan Historian Jo Antonson says, "It sounds better than 'Rat.'"

Indeed, it does.