“The Walrus is Alaska’s treasure. It is important to our livelihood and tradition. For thousands of years, the people depend on the walrus for what it provides- the meat, the oil, the skin, the intestines and the ivory. The walrus is all used and not wasted. Our ancestors, elders and we consider the land and sea very important to give and keep alive our traditional way of life. Through our traditional way of life others will recognize and understand us.”
-Paul Joe, Sr. Renowned Ivory Carver, Hooper Bay, AK
The subsistence use of Pacific Walruses and other marine mammals by Alaska Native peoples and the ability to create and sell authentic Native handicrafts are recognized under the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.
If you plan to harvest, possess, or transfer walrus ivory, please familiarize yourself with important dos and don’ts. For more information on authentic Native handicrafts, we also recommend viewing the following resources: Walrus ivory brochure, Sea otter handicrafts brochure.
Frequently Asked Questions
WHO MAY HARVEST MARINE MAMMALS AND CREATE HANDICRAFTS?
Alaska Native peoples who reside in Alaska and dwell on the coast of the North Pacific Ocean or the Arctic Ocean may harvest marine mammals for subsistence purposes or the creation and sale of Native articles of handicraft or clothing, providing the harvest is not wasteful. A person must be one-fourth degree or more Alaska Native or be enrolled under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is illegal for a person who is not Alaska Native to harvest marine mammals or to create handicrafts from marine mammals harvested after December 21,1972.
WHAT IS LEGAL FOR ALASKA NATIVE PEOPLES TO SELL TO SOMEONE WHO IS NOT NATIVE?
Alaska Native peoples may sell or trade authentic Native handicrafts created from marine mammal parts to non-Native people. It is illegal to sell trade or barter marine mammal parts in their natural unaltered form to a non-Native person.
WHAT IS AN AUTHENTIC NATIVE HANDICRAFT?
Authentic Native handicrafts are items composed wholly or in some significant respect of natural materials which are significantly altered from their natural form and which are produced, decorated, or fashioned in the exercise of traditional handicrafts without the use of pantographs, multiple carvers or other mass copying devices. Traditional handicrafts include, but are not limited to weavings, carvings, stitching, sewing, lacings, beadings, drawings, and paintings.
Marine mammal parts must be significantly altered and qualify as authentic Native handicrafts to be lawfully sold to non-Native people.
CAN UNALTERED WALRUS SKULLS, HEAD MOUNTS, TUSKS, OR OOSIKS BE SOLD TO SOMEONE WHO ISN’T NATIVE?
No, it is illegal to sell unaltered walrus skulls, head mounts, tusks, or oosiks (penis bones) to non-Natives. (There are pre-act unaltered heads that may be sold lawfully. Please contact USFWS OLE for questions). Walrus skulls, head mounts, tusks, or oosiks must be fashioned into authentic Native handicrafts (significantly altered from their natural form) before they may be sold to non-Natives. Polishing these objects alone does not qualify as “significant alteration.”
CAN UNALTERED WALRUS SKULLS, HEAD MOUNTS, TUSKS, OR OOSIKS BE SOLD BETWEEN ALASKA NATIVE PEOPLES?
Yes, Alaska Native people may sell or trade any walrus parts in any form to other Alaska Native people without restriction. However, before they are sold, tusks must be tagged through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Marking, Tagging, & Reporting Program. It's the seller’s responsibility to make sure that the buyer or recipient is a qualified Alaska Native person. If you are in doubt, ask to see proper identification, which could include but is not limited to a Bureau of Indian Affairs card or tribal enrollment card from a federally recognized Alaska tribe.
CAN SEA OTTER OR POLAR BEAR HIDES, SKULLS, OR CLAWS BE SOLD TO SOMEONE WHO ISN’T NATIVE?
No, it is illegal to sell, trade, or barter sea otter or polar bear hides or unaltered skulls and claws to non-Native people. Sea otter and polar bear hides or skulls and claws must be fashioned into authentic Native handicrafts (significantly altered from their natural form) before they may be sold or transferred to non-Native people. Tanning alone is not considered “significantly altered”.
CAN SEA OTTER OR POLAR BEAR HIDES OR SKULLS BE SOLD TO ALASKA NATIVES?
Yes, Alaska Native people may sell or trade any sea otter and polar bear parts in any form to other Alaska Natives without restriction. Hides and skulls must be tagged through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Marking, Tagging, & Reporting Program prior to sale. It is the seller’s responsibility to make sure that the buyer or recipient is a qualified Alaska Native. If you are in doubt, please ask to see proper identification, which could include but is not limited to a Bureau of Indian Affairs card or tribal enrollment card from a federally recognized Alaska tribe.
WHAT IS A REGISTERED AGENT?
A Registered Agent is a person who has registered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and possesses a certificate allowing him/her to legally buy unaltered walrus ivory, sea otter hides and/or polar bear hides from Alaska Native peoples for resale to other Alaska Native peoples or registered agents. Registered agents may not sell to non-Natives.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF A NON-NATIVE ASKS ME TO SELL THEM UNALTERED MARINE MAMMAL PARTS?
You should explain to them that it is illegal and show them this fact sheet. If the person persists in asking, you may report them to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Law Enforcement Office (see below for contact information). If the person claims to be a Registered Agent, ask to see a copy of their registration permit or contact USFWS Law Enforcement (see contact information below) for confirmation, before making a sale.
WHAT ABOUT BEACH-FOUND IVORY?
For beach-found ivory visit https://www.fws.gov/beach-found-marine-mammal-parts-alaska