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Machias Seal Island Lighthouse


Machias Seal Island is an island in disputed water between the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy about 12 miles from Cutler. The island sits in Maine waters but the lighthouse is maintained by the Canadian government. It is a compromise reflecting the fact that both nations claim the island.

Both nations avoided having the International Court of Justice rule on the sovereignty of Machias Seal Island and North Rock by agreeing to have a common starting point for the offshore boundary southwest of the island. The ICJ has since highlighted a gap in the maritime boundary for several dozen kilometers between the current end of the Canada–US border and the 1984 Gulf of Maine boundary starting point. Machias Seal Island and North Rock lie in the middle of this "grey zone"—a term coined by fishermen from both countries, referring to unclear jurisdictional boundaries in the area.

Machias Seal Island is a barren island devoid of trees. It was frequently fog-bound and many ships had difficulty navigating their way to St. Andrew and St. John. The Canadian government built the Machias Seal Island Lighthouse to help with navigation and in 1832, two octagonal wooden towers and a keeper’s dwelling were built on the island.

As Machias Seal Island was located in the center of a shipping channel and was frequently shrouded in fog, in 1841, the keeper was supplied a four-pound signal gun and a supply of powder to serve as a fog signal, though the installation of a large alarm bell was recommended. A pattern of firing the gun every two hours during low visibility was later established. One keeper would even frequently board vessels and pilot them to Saint Andrews, leaving his wife in charge of the lights.

A steam fog-whistle, the most powerful one then on the Bay of Fundy, was established on Machias Seal Island in 1873. A new tower was built in 1873, and several years later a companion tower was requisitioned. A new Fresnel lens was ordered for the twin towers, but with the increased power came increased range, and mariners were warned that the light ranges four miles beyond the Murr Ledge, whereas the old lights went only as far as the ledge.

The island is home to many rare seabirds, such as razorbills, common murres, common and Arctic terns, Leach's storm-petrels, and common eider and a puffin colony. All are protected by the Canadian Wildlife Service.

In 1995, the Canadian Coast Guard dramatically reduced the number of manned lighthouses on the Atlantic coast as a cost-saving measure. Today, all lighthouses in Eastern Canada except for the station on Machias Seal Island are unmanned. Although the Machias Seal Island light had been automated several years prior to this decision, the move to have the Canadian Coast Guard maintain the light on Machias Seal Island is now "for sovereignty purposes.”

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A 52 Weeks of Fun Fascinating Fact about Machias Seal Island Lighthouse

The ownership of Machias Seal Island is still disputed today between Canada and the United States.

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