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Alaska Department of Fish and Game


Walrus Research Projects
Village-based Walrus Habitat Use Studies in the Chukchi Sea

We are pleased to announce that the Arctic Marine Mammal Program of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game worked with walrus hunters from St. Lawrence Island to deploy 33 satellite transmitters on walruses in June. As part of a collaborative walrus research cruise with USGS and USFWS from 28 May to 29 June 2014, we deployed 31 transmitters on females (12 of which had calves of the year) and two on males. Tags were deployed 1–23 June in the Chukchi Sea.

Clarence Irrigoo from Gambell and Edwin Noongwook from Savoonga participated in the research cruise and helped deploy tags and collect biopsies. This project benefited considerably from their hunting skills and their knowledge of walrus behavior. Furthermore, we would like to thank the crew of the R/V Norseman II for their assistance. Funding for this project is provided by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). We plan to track the movements of these walruses, in general, and relative to oil and gas activities in the lease sale area in the Chukchi Sea.

These maps below show locations of where satellite tags were deployed on walruses (green stars) and the movement tracks of 33 walruses from 1 June to 1 July and from 1–11 July. On the second map we've outlined Hanna Shoals, black outline based on the 40m isobath, and the Hanna Shoal Walrus Use Area (green) delineated by the USFWS by overlaying the 50 percent UDs for both foraging and occupancy as described in Jay et al. (2012) in the Hanna Shoal area for the months of June through September. The sea ice images for both maps are noted on each map and are courtesy of the U.S. National Ice Center (http://www.natice.noaa.gov/index.html).

Walrus Movements: 7 July - 17 July, 2014
Over the last ten days we received transmissions from 27 walruses (2 male and 25 female). Five walruses are in Russian waters, north of Wrangel Island, and 6 are in coastal waters of northwest Alaska. The remaining 16 are located within the boundaries of Lease Area 193, of which 15 spent more than one day within the Hanna Shoal Walrus Use Area. Walruses were tagged in the Chukchi Sea from 1–23 June, 2014.

In addition to the movement tracks of these walruses we mapped the boundary of Lease Area 193 (orange outline), Hanna Shoals (black outline based on the 40m isobaths), and the Hanna Shoal Walrus Use Area (green). Sea ice data are courtesy of the U.S. National Ice Center, dated 17 July (http://www.natice.noaa.gov/index.html). Funding for this project is provided by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).
Walrus Movements: 1 June - 1 July, 2014 Walrus Movements: 1-11 July 2014
Summary Map
Walrus Movements: 1-11 July, 2014 using MODIS ice image

Walrus Tracking Maps Archive

Project Overview

Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) are an important subsistence and cultural resource for coastal people of western Alaska and they are an important component of the Bering and Chukchi seas ecosystem. Walruses winter together in the Bering Sea but females with calves and subadults summer in the Chukchi Sea using sea ice as a resting platform while feeding on the shallow sea floor; whereas most adult males remain in the Bering Sea where they use terrestrial haulouts for resting. The rapid retreat of sea ice in recent years is changing walrus summer habitat in the Chukchi Sea and may be changing summer distribution and haulout behavior, requiring that walruses haul out on land instead of ice. Oil and gas activity has recently increased in the Chukchi Sea, increasing the importance of improving our understanding of walrus movements, feeding behavior, and habitat requirements to develop effective mitigation measures for the conservation and management of the species. Satellite-linked transmitters placed on walruses near the communities of Little Diomede, Shishmaref, Point Hope, Point Lay, Wainwright, and Barrow in spring, summer, and fall would provide information on movements, speed of travel, feeding areas, and haulout behavior. Working cooperatively with the Eskimo Walrus Commission and walrus hunters from these communities, we have designed a study to deploy satellite transmitters and conduct counts and observations of walruses on haulouts near villages in spring and fall. Traditional ecological knowledge will also be collected and integrated into the results. These data will provide information that will help answer important questions about walrus movements, feeding areas, haulout behavior, migration timing, and body condition that will improve our understanding of habitats important to walruses. The study will be conducted over a 5-year period, is designed so that is does not interfere with subsistence walrus hunting activities and is funded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

Tagging Activities in 2014

As part of a walrus research cruise with USGS and USFWS from 28 May to 29 June 2014 we deployed 33 satellite-linked transmitters; 31 on females (12 of which had calves of the year) and two on males. Tags were deployed 1–23 June in the Chukchi Sea (Fig. 1). Of the 33 transmitters, 23 were Splash10 tags and 10 were SPOT tags. The Splash10 tags provide dive information in addition to locations and the SPOT tags provide location data. We will prepare weekly maps of the locations of tagged walruses and distribute them via e-mail to the Eskimo Walrus Commission, hunters, agencies, oil industry personnel, and anyone interested in receiving them.

Figure 1. Walrus Tagging Locations, June 2014

Two walrus hunters from St. Lawrence Island, Clarence Irrigoo form Gambell (Fig. 2) and Edwin Noongwook from Savoonga (Fig. 3), participated in the research cruise and were trained to deploy tags and collect biopsies. This project benefited considerably from their hunting skills and their knowledge of walrus behavior. Funding for this project is provided by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

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Figure 2. Clarence Irrigoo
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Figure 3. Edwin Noongwook

Tagging Activities in 2013

As part of a walrus research cruise with USGS and USFWS from 4 June to 1 July 2013 we deployed 34 satellite-linked transmitters; 28 on females (13 of which had calves of the year) and six on males. Tags were deployed 6 – 27 June from near St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea to near Pt. Lay in the Chukchi Sea (Fig. 4). Of the 34 transmitters, 21 were Splash10 tags and 13 were SPOT tags. The Splash10 tags provide dive information in addition to locations and the SPOT tags provide location data. We will prepare weekly maps of the locations of tagged walruses and distribute them via e-mail to the Eskimo Walrus Commission, hunters, agencies, oil industry personnel, and anyone interested in receiving them.

Walrus Tagging Locations June 2013
Figure 4. Date and locations where 34 walruses were tagged with satellite-linked transmitters during a joint USGS, USFWS, and ADF&G walrus research cruise.

Two walrus hunters from St. Lawrence Island, Clarence Irrigoo form Gambell (Fig. 5) and Perry Pungowiyi from Savoonga (Fig. 6), participated in the research cruise and were trained to deploy tags and collect biopsies. This project benefited considerably from their hunting skills and their knowledge of walrus behavior. Funding for this project is provided by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

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Figure 5. Clarence Irrigoo
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Figure 6. Perry Pungowiyi

Traditional Knowledge Interviews

Traditional knowledge interviews were conducted at Pt. Hope in January 2013. A report was drafted and sent to the interviewees for their review. Their comments have been received and will be incorporated into a final report that will be approved by the participants before it is available for distribution.

A final report was approved following traditional knowledge interviews conducted in Pt. Lay and Wainwright in 2012:

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