Designation: Candidate. By October 2017, we must either propose that the Pacific walrus be listed or determine that the walrus does not need the protections of the Endangered Species Act and it will no longer be a candidate.
Walruses are readily distinguishable from other pinnipeds by their prominent tusks and large size. They are gregarious, traveling in groups and hauling out to rest on ice or land together. Group size can range from a few up to tens of thousands animals. A female gives birth to a single calf every 2-3 years. The females and their young typically travel with the receding ice pack from areas near the Saint Lawrence Islands, through the Bering Strait, to the shallow continental shelf waters of the Chukchi Sea where they spend the summer feeding. Walruses eat clams and other invertebrates.
Critical Habitat: None designated
Distribution: The Pacific walrus ranges from the southern Bering Sea to the northern Chukchi Sea and the coasts of Alaska and Russia.
Threats: Commercial harvest initially reduced the population size from an estimated 200,000 to approximately 45,000 in the 1950s-1960s. Commercial and recreational harvest is no longer permitted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Traditional subsistence harvest by Alaskan Natives is permitted. The primary threat to Pacific walrus is the loss of sea ice and the resultant change in walrus behavior. Typically, the females and their young hauled out on ice during the summer over shallow marine waters where the females feed. With the loss of ice, large herds form at terrestrial haulouts where young animals and females are more susceptible to trampling if disturbance occurs. Energy requirements to obtain food are also expected to increase as animals must swim farther to feed when local resources are depleted. Transmission of diseases may also increase because of the large aggregations of animals or increased stress levels.
Conservation efforts: Current conservation efforts are directed at reducing disturbance around large haulouts to prevent stampedes. We are also working with Native subsistence hunters as they regulate their harvest and help us in research projects.
Contacts: Joel Garlich-Miller (907) 786-3820
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile
R7’s Marine Mammal Management website: