Pacific walruses hauled out at Point Lay Alaska again this year

A photo of a mass walrus haulout at Point Lay, Alaska taken a few days ago from a distance show thousands of animals. But no one’s counting because apparently, no one’s interested.

Walrus Pt Lay ADN story Aug 27 screencap
The picture on the left (above, courtesy Alaska Dispatch News) was taken 23 August by global warming activist photographer Gary Braasch, the day after a news report appeared about the US Fish & Wildlife Service and aviation authorities asking the media to approach USFWS about walrus photos and information that gave no hint that a large haulout of walruses was already in place (22 August 2015, “Federal agencies, Point Lay seek to minimize walrus disturbances” ):

“Federal agencies are stepping in to shield a North Slope village from the possibility of a deluge of international attention should a large walrus haulout develop nearby, as it has in years past — agreeing to act as an information clearinghouse on behalf of the Native Village of Point Lay.” [my bold]

Here is what the global warming activist site that published the pictures says about the haulout:

“Thousands of Pacific walrus are coming ashore near Point Lay, NW Arctic coast of Alaska. The huge sea mammals and young began coming up on this barrier island along Kasegaluk Lagoon about August 20, according to local natives. This is one of the earliest known summer haul outs of the walrus along the Alaska coast of the Chukchi Sea, according to wildlife biologists.” [my bold]

They say “thousands.” But the photos taken, reproduced in the Alaska Dispatch News story I read, were taken from a greater distance than the famous photo of ~35,000 animals released by government officials last year and looks like the total could be as large, or larger, than the 2014 haulout.

Said a Washington Post story (27 August 2015):

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed to the Post Wednesday evening that a mass of walruses had “hauled out,” or gathered on shore, near the remote community of Point Lay. The service did not estimate the number or provide images. But photojournalist Gary Braasch has posted dramatic photographs, taken during an Aug. 23 flyover, of what appear to be at least several thousand walruses crowding onto a barrier island.” [my bold]

Walrus haulouts_NOAA status report 2011 PolarBearScience

According to The Guardian “Extreme Arctic sea ice melt forces thousands of walruses ashore in Alaska”

“Braasch has spent about a decade photographing evidence of climate change in Alaska, and had been tracking the movement of tagged walruses through the US Geological Survey mapping projects.

“What they looked like by eye was three brown smudges along the beach. They were not visible as individual animals,” he said. But he said the blown-up images revealed large numbers of animals. “Certainly they were in the low thousands at that point.”

Maybe I’m wrong. I’m not an expert on estimating numbers from aerial photos. But have a look and ask yourself – why didn’t the FWS say there was a haulout last week when they made their announcement about protecting the herd from disturbance?

And now that the cat is out of the bag, why have they not released any official photos or made an official estimate? Considering the hype they generated last year, why the reticence now? It just seems odd to me.

Is it that they don’t want to emphasize how many walruses there really are? That all the walruses didn’t all die last year due to global warming? Or did they simply realize that their alarmist rhetoric and the media storm it generated last year made the situation worse for the animals?

Compare this year from the new required great distance (below upper) to an official photo from last year (below lower):

Walrus at Pt Lay 2015 vs 2014 lg

Apparently, photographer Gary Braasch was at least a mile away”:

“Braasch said he took precautions, including flying in a small aircraft, and at a distance, “so as not to disturb the herd.”

“I used a very long telephoto lens,” Braasch said. “My pilot says we were at least a mile away.”

The high resolution copy of the photos at the World View of Global Warming website shows lots of animals in the water in the 2015 photo, indicating the walruses were actively feeding, as the animals were last year – not sitting on the beach starving to death. It’s likely that in a few days they’ll be gone, if they aren’t already.

Now the Feds are threatening to press charges against the photographer who flew over the haulout without permission, saying he may have broken their rules (“Feds investigating if photographer flew too near walruses hauled out at Point Lay”)

As far as I know, there is no new population information on walrus that wasn’t available last year, when I covered this topic extensively (Crockford 2014; video below).

Previous posts:
Pacific walrus sob stories begin again August 6 2015

Walrus and sea ice, a summary October 20, 2014

Where have all the walrus gone? October 12, 2014

Mass haulouts of female Pacific walrus as a sign of population health October 7, 2014

High walrus numbers may explain why females and calves are hauling out in droves October 4 2014

References
Crockford, S.J. 2014. On The Beach: Walrus haulouts are nothing new. GWPF Briefing 11. The Global Warming Policy Foundation, London. Pdf here.

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