Tens of thousands of walrus concentrating along Alaska's shore



Posted on 13 September 2010  | 
Walrus in the Russian Arctic.
© Staffan Widstand / WWfEnlarge
USGS researchers are estimating that "anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000" walruses now have hauled out along Alaska's Chukchi coastline, according to a report on 10 September 2010 in the Alaska Dispatch in Anchorage.

"Walruses have been known to haul out onto land in large numbers in Russia," the article says, "but never on the Alaska side of their migratory corridor in the tens of thousands, as is being witnessed this year."

On 30 August, Nick Sundt in the WWF US Climate Blog first noted evidence that walruses were being forced ashore as sea-ice disappeared from the Chukchi (see Walruses Again Being Forced Ashore as Arctic Sea Ice Retreats). Arctic sea ice continued to decline and by Friday 3 September had dropped to the third lowest extent on record (see Arctic Sea Ice Extent Now Third Lowest on Record -- and Still Dropping), as the USGS reported that thousands of walruses were hauling out on the Alaska shore (see USGS Alaska Science Centre Weekly Highlights for 9-2-2010 and the posting on the WWF US Climate Blog from 7 September 2010, USGS Confirms Thousands of Walruses Hauling-Out on Alaska's Northwest Coast as Sea Ice Rapidly Retreats).

Last year under similar sea ice conditions, there were comparable haul-outs on the Russian shoreline of the Chukchi; and smaller haul-outs on the Alaskan side.

WWF: Working with walrus, bears and people

According to WWF's arctic species specialist, Geoff York, WWF recognises the need to protect walrus, polar bears and people and has been working since 1996 with Indigenous Chukchi people in several villages along the Chukotka coast of eastern Russia in support of their grass roots efforts.

"Huge numbers of walrus began coming ashore in Chukotka around 2007, the record low ice extent year. The proactive, conservation-first response of local people to these events in Russia is very uplifting - with two communities actually creating new protected areas around these haulout sites," Geoff York explained.

WWF and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recognised the need for similar grassroots conservation efforts across the Chukchi sea in Alaska.

Joel Garlich-Millare of the FWS anticipated the potential for large walrus haulouts in areas where they were not historically seen in such numbers along the north western AK coast.

And last February, after two years of planning, WWF and FWS were successful in bringing Chukchi leaders to Alaska to conduct a series of village meetings from Point Hope to Barrow, that created a forum to discuss walrus and polar bear conservation issues and concerns. Listen to an audio report about their visit.

According to Geoff York: "Inuit in Alaska were thrilled to have visitors from Russia and were very interested in their stories and response to both the huge walrus haulouts and also to how they interact with polar bears near villages."

Watch: Ice disappears, walrus head for land

This video from Discovery Networks features voiceover from WWF 's arctic species specialist, Geoff York, and spectacular aerial footage of the Alaskan walrus haulout.

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