Henry Wood Elliott (1846–1930), a U.S. Treasury official assigned to monitor the harvest of northern fur seals on the Pribilof Islands in the 1870s, became a self-taught expert on, and defender of, the species. His careful documentation of the seals’ breeding behaviour, and of their commercial harvest, complemented by hundreds of detailed and evocative watercolours, provides a unique record of this once abundant species and the lucrative industry that revolved around it. Elliott's outspoken lobbying on behalf of the seals’ protection is often credited with saving the species from extinction. His paintings of the seals, the seal harvest, and life on the Pribilof Islands in the second half of the nineteenth century constitute an unmatched historical record of this remote region.
Elliott was able to witness two full breeding seasons (and harvesting) of the fur seals during his initial stay on the Pribilofs from April 1872 to October 1873. He returned to the islands to conduct a follow-up census of the seals, on behalf of the U.S. Government, in the summer of 1874. He traveled there unofficially and at his own expense in 1876. His fourth trip to the Pribilofs was in the spring of 1890 (again on behalf of the U.S. Department of the Treasury), in response to news of a dramatic decline of the seal populations. In April, 1891, because of his public revelation of mismanagement of the fur seal harvest, Elliott was fired by the Treasury. He continued his tireless lobbying on behalf of the fur seals as a private citizen for the rest of his life. He visited the Pribilofs for the last time on behalf of the House Committee on Expenditures in the Department of Commerce and Labor in the summer of 1913. Born in Cleveland Ohio on November 13, 1846, Elliott died in Seattle Washington on May 25, 1930.