Hauling out: International trade and management of Walrus
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Although commercial hunting of Walrus populations has not occurred since the mid 20th Century, hunting for subsistence purposes is still permitted in Canada, the United States, Greenland and Russia, with a small walrus sport hunt allowed in Canada. Norway is the only range State that prohibits the hunting of walrus.
Hunting helps to maintain the cultural identity of Arctic peoples and contributes to a traditional subsistence economy in the region, both as a source of food and in generating income.
According to the report, Hauling out: International trade and management of Walrus, on average up to 5,406 walruses (555 Atlantic Walruses Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus and 4,851 Pacific Walruses O. r. divergens) were hunted per year from 2006/2007 to 2010/2011. This equates to less than 3% and 4% respectively of the estimated global populations for each subspecies.
International trade in walrus parts and derivatives is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Based on CITES trade data on walrus skulls and tusks, between 461and 772 walruses were represented in international trade during 2005 to 2009, an average of 92-154 per year. The majority of the skulls and tusks were from Atlantic Walrus.
However, “Limitations in available trade data make it very difficult to make inferences on the impact of international trade, whether current provisions and regulations are adequate and whether further action is needed,” says the report.
Overall, the report finds a lack of long-term data and poor quality of information on population estimates for walruses making it difficult to determine the true impact of international trade or what the current or future impact on walrus populations will be from climate change. Currently neither illegal hunting nor illegal trade appear to be at levels that would cause conservation concern.
The report therefore recommends a number of steps to improve monitoring of international trade in walrus parts and steps to obtain better data on the population size, trend and demographics of both Atlantic and Pacific Walrus populations to ensure harvest levels are sustainable.
“Co-operation, collaboration and commitment are needed by all to help fill the gaps in our current knowledge,” says the report, noting that “Successful management will result in populations and stocks that remain healthy, stable, resilient to threats and a resource to local communities.”