Hundreds of walrus are hauled out on a rocky beach on a wave beaten island at the northern edge of Bristol Bay. Some bask contentedly in the sun, others lumber around, their white tusks gleaming as they jockey for more comfortable positions. This is Round Island, part of the Walrus Islands sanctuary, and a half-dozen visitors watch the walrus from a grassy cliff above. Even more are watching at home on their computers. In the summer of 2015, cameras were set up to provide live, real-time streaming of Round Island walrus.
Round Island is one of the only land-based walrus haulouts in the southern Bering Sea. When spring comes to the Bering Sea, females and young walrus follow the retreating icepack north, resting on the sea ice and feeding at the fringes. But thousands of males stay behind at Round Island to forage. The walrus bellow like sea lions, but they also make unusual vocalizations underwater called belling or chiming that can be heard on the surface.
Wildlife watchers aren't the only visitors - close to half a million seabirds nest on the cliffs of Round Island, and cormorant, murre, and kittiwake colonies cover the crags and cliff faces. Parakeet auklets and puffins fly over the choppy waters, where Steller sea lions, grey whales and humpback whales swim. Red foxes feed on seabird eggs and the voles and shrews that scurry through the island's lush summertime grass. But it's walrus, with their unusual belling and gonging calls that are the highlight for most visitors to round Island.