The use of Arctic resources by people from outside the region has a long history. In the 1600s, Europeans sailed north for whales, walrus, and fish. In the 1700s, Russian fur traders reached from Asia across to Alaska, leading to the extinction of the Steller sea cow and the near-extinction of the sea otter. In the 1800s, American whalers sailed through the Bering Strait and decimated the bowhead whale and Pacific walrus populations. In the Barents Sea, and in the waters of Greenland and the Canadian Eastern Arctic Americans and Europeans hunted bowhead and other large whales to near extinction. In addition, the feeding of the whaling crews led to the loss of muskoxen in northern Alaska, and decimation of reindeer on Svalbard.
Contact between the new arrivals and indigenous peoples led to large changes, too. Missionaries brought a new religion and way of living. Modern weapons changed hunting practices. The newcomers also introduced alcohol, and diseases that killed a large proportion of the people in many areas. There are few estimates available on the impact on indigenous populations in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic of diseases brought by the white man, though they were probably severe. For North-America as a whole it has been estimated that while non-Indian-Indian conflicts killed around 10 percent of the tribal populations, diseases killed somewhere between 25-50 percent, typically smallpox, measles and cholera (Waldman, 2000). In the northern regions, such as in the Northwest Territories, there were major tuberculosis epidemics around 1790, and typhus in the Hudson Bay region around 1902 (Waldman, 2000). Most epidemics were never recorded, nonetheless they had severe impacts on many tribes far into the last century. Many missionaries also brought in a new religion and culture, which impacted societies in sometimes sustainable, but also frequently destructive ways. Outsiders brought an end to the fear of starvation, which dictated aspects of indigenous ways of life in the Arctic. They also brought modern health care and formal schooling, which sometimes damaged cultures, but also provided many indigenous peoples with the skills they would eventually need for promoting their own rights.
In the 1800s and 1900s, mineral exploitation grew rapidly with mining for lead, nickel, zinc, and other metals in many countries. There was a gold rush in the Yukon, the production of oil in northern Alaska and the discovery of diamonds in Russia and Canada. Prospectors continue to search for new deposits, while land claims agreements and other forms of local self-determination give indigenous peoples a greater voice, and a greater share, in the course of development.