Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Walruses reported at Point Lay move on

October 11, 2016


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

Approximately 6000 Pacific walruses hauled out on a barrier island near the Native Village of Point Lay on Friday, October 7, but by Monday morning the animals appear to have moved on. “The walruses are likely heading south to coastal haulouts in Chukotka Russia” said Joel Garlich-Miller, a walrus biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Since 2007, walruses have been hauling out near the village in groups of up to 40,000 animals starting in mid- to late August. “When the walrus first started coming to shore, it was kind of strange to us...and then we just realized that there is no ice, and that’s why they’re coming to shore; cause we know usually they’re on the ice all the time,” said Tribal Council President Leo Ferreira III in a recent video.

This summer, unlike recent years, patches of sea ice persisted in offshore areas of the eastern Chukchi Sea through the summer season and no large walrus haulouts were reported along the northern coast of Alaska. In recent weeks herds of walruses have been reported moving south along the coast and a few temporary haulouts have been reported at Cape Lisburne and Point Lay.

The Point Lay haulout is used primarily by cows and calves. The formation of fall coastal haulouts along the Chukchi Sea coast in recent years is thought to be associated with the loss of sea ice habitats near offshore feeding grounds. Walruses would normally hang out on the sea ice in small groups and occasionally slip into the water to feed. Ice floes provide protection from predators and provide easy access to feeding areas below.

In previous years, the people of Point Lay witnessed stampedes triggered by air traffic and observed the resulting dead animals. “It was kind of heartbreaking to see that these animals were being wasted this way, in this manner," President Ferreira said.

Walrus are an important food source for the community and have been part of their Inupiaq culture for thousands of years. The Native Village of Point Lay has taken a lead role in stewardship of the walrus haulout in order to prevent disturbance events.

As soon as the haulout was noticed, the community contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to coordinate notification of the FAA, air carriers and shipping companies to let them know to avoid the area.

Hear more from Native Village of Point Lay Tribal Council President, Leo Ferreira III, in this video.

Photo of haulout available on request: On Sunday, October 9, at the request of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service was able to photograph the haulout. The photo was taken well offshore of the haulout (2 nm). They estimated that 1,500–3,000 walruses were on shore in two small groups. -FWS

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