WESPEN Online Order Form print this page
US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

TOGIAK: A Success Story without a Cliff(hanger)

Region 7, October 17, 2013
Watch Your Step! In this photo from 1994, it's easy to see how some walruses came to be in a dangerous position with regards to disturbances.
Watch Your Step! In this photo from 1994, it's easy to see how some walruses came to be in a dangerous position with regards to disturbances. - Photo Credit: n/a
The grass may be greener... but we really need you to stay on your side. Here's a trail camera photo showing the existing fence, as well as some relaxed and well-behaved Cape Peirce visitors.
The grass may be greener... but we really need you to stay on your side. Here's a trail camera photo showing the existing fence, as well as some relaxed and well-behaved Cape Peirce visitors. - Photo Credit: n/a
Things that go bump in the night- pinniped style!
Things that go bump in the night- pinniped style! - Photo Credit: n/a

Cape Peirce, located in the southwest corner of Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, is well known for diverse wildlife, marine life and birdlife that utilize its coastlines. Contradictory to the fact it’s often teaming with life, Cape Peirce is to a lesser extent known for its death. Pacific walruses are one of the more charismatic animals that have faced less than honorable deaths at Cape Peirce- by falling off the cliffs.

 

Walruses can be very skittish animals, making them vulnerable to disturbance, possibly caused by boats running too close to shore for their comfort, a bear walking towards them or the noise of an overflying airplane. Often times their reaction is to get into the water as a defense tactic from threats on land. In the case of Cape Peirce, the shortest distance may be over a cliff. Walruses do not have the best eyesight, and that may play a role in their inability to recognize that immediate danger a cliff can pose.

Walruses can gain access to the cliffs by traveling up a sand dune into the uplands of the Cape. Throughout the years, walruses have fallen off the cliffs, leading to mortality events. This was first documented in 1994-1996, when a total of 159 walruses died. Another occurred in 2005, with 30 falling off the cliffs to their deaths. And the last documented event occurred in 2009, when 89 walruses perished.

Enter Refuge intervention. Togiak staff decided to try and deter walruses from traveling up the dune by constructing a fence. The fence was built in September 2010 and spans the length of the dune, creating a barrier to walruses attempting to travel into the uplands. The fence was also outfitted with a couple of motion sensor cameras to try and observe walrus reaction to the fence. Some very interesting photos have been captured, of walruses and other types of wildlife at Cape Peirce. During the life of the fence, walruses have broken through it three times. However, zero walruses have died from falling off the cliffs. And, the dune behind the fence, because walruses are not traveling up it, is becoming revegetated and growing into a natural barrier to the dune. The hope is the dune will become a natural barrier once again and ultimately render the fence unnecessary.

For more information, contact biologist Michael Winfree at 907-842-8409.

Contact Info: Terry Fuller, 907-842-1063 ext. 8419, terry_fuller@fws.gov