Walrus populations may need protection

  • By By BECKY BOHRER
  • Tuesday, September 9, 2014 9:32pm
  • News

JUNEAU, Alaska — Researchers are trying to get a better handle on the size of the Pacific walrus population ahead of an expected decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on whether the animals need special protections.

A new report from the U.S. Geological Survey estimates the population was cut roughly in half between 1981 and 1999, possibly due to overabundance of walrus and relatively high harvests in the 1980s. However, the study’s lead author, Rebecca Taylor, said other factors — such as lower availability of food, potentially because of sea ice loss — couldn’t be ruled out.

The decline was not steady and was most severe in the mid-’80s before moderating, the USGS said.

Taylor said the goal of the study, published last week in the online journal Marine Mammal Science, was to provide baseline information, including information on historic population dynamics, reproductive rates and survival rates shown by the population.

She said no one before had been able to provide rigorous survival estimates.

More recent data — from 2013 and 2014 — have been collected as part of an ongoing effort to help get a better feel for population dynamics. Taylor said the analysis will be brought more up to date.

Pacific walrus are generally found in the Bering or Chukchi seas, depending on the time of year, and use coastal haul-outs. They are notoriously difficult to count because they move around a lot, often using floating ice, and spend much of their time underwater, Taylor said.

There is one population that includes U.S. and Russia waters, she said. A 2006 survey estimated at least 129,000 animals. In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found protecting the Pacific walrus as threatened or endangered was warranted, due to loss of sea ice from global warming and concerns with subsistence harvest levels. However, the agency said listing was precluded by the need to address higher-priority species.

That prompted a lawsuit, the settlement for which called for a plan to address the backlog of species. A decision on the walruses is due in 2017.

Jim MacCracken, the lead for Fish and Wildlife’s walrus program in Alaska, said the focus for determining whether listing is warranted has started to shift, with the agency looking more at population viability, such as whether the animals can adapt to changes. In the past, there was greater emphasis on threats, he said.

More in News

The Alaska State Capitol is seen on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Legislature modernizes 40-year-old definition of consent in sexual assault cases

‘Alaska took a gargantuan step forward in updating our laws,’ says deputy attorney general

Project stakeholders cut a ribbon at the Nikiski Shelter of Hope on Friday, May 20, 2022, in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Stakeholders celebrate opening of Nikiski shelter

The shelter officially opened last December

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks with reporters Thursday about the state’s budget at the Alaska State Capitol. Dunleavy said lawmakers had sent a complete budget, and that there was no need for a special session.
Dunleavy: No need for special session

Governor calls budget “complete”

A magnet promoting the Alaska Reads Act released sits atop a stack of Alaskan-authored and Alaska-centric books. Lawmakers passed the Alaska Reads Act on the last day of the legislative session, but several members of the House of Representatives were upset with the bill, and the way it was passed. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
In last-minute move, Legislature passes early reading overhaul

Rural lawmakers push back on Alaska Reads Act

Graduates wait to receive diplomas during Connections Homeschool’s commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Connections honors more than 100 graduates

The home-school program held a ceremony Thursday in Soldotna

Alaska Senate President Peter Micciche, left, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, right, meet with reporters in Micciche’s office in the early morning hours of Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Juneau, Alaska, after the Legislature ended its regular session. Micciche, a Republican, and Begich, a Democrat, discussed their working relationship, as well as well as parts of the session they were either pleased with or disappointed with. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
After House balks at bigger figure, budget OK’d with $3,200 payout per Alaskan

Budget finishes as second-largest in state history by one measure, but Dunleavy could make cuts

Loren Reese, principal at Kenai Alternative High School, gives Oliver Larrow the Mr. Fix It award Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at Kenai Alternative High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Alternative graduates 22, says goodbye to principal

The ceremony included special awards customized for students

Graduates throw their caps into the air at the end of Soldotna High School’s commencement ceremony on Wednesday, May 18, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘We never fell down’

Soldotna High School honors more than 100 graduates

Brandi Harbaugh gives a presentation during a joint work session on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Mill rate decrease, max school funding included in proposed borough budget

The final document is subject to approval by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly

Most Read