Category Archives: walrus

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]

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Pacific walrus sob stories begin again

Now we have poor hunting conditions in the Bering Strait touted as evidence that “walrus migration patterns have changed” with the implication that this is because “…the past eight years have had the eight lowest amounts of summer sea ice on record” due to man-made global warming.

Walrus 2012 July USGS

A subsistence lifestyle is hard, particularly so if it depends on a highly mobile, migratory herd animal. Think Barren-ground Inuit caribou hunters, who often starved because herd sizes declined for a few years or moved unpredictably.

Many factors – seasonal weather, last year’s winter conditions, size of the herd, food supply – all affect where and when a migratory herd will move and the likelihood it will be positioned for optimal harvesting by hunters. Add another highly variable factor into that – Bering Sea ice – and you have a highly unpredictable food supply, especially if you sit in one spot (like on St. Lawrence Island) and expect that migratory herd animal to come within reach.

Hunting walrus from St. Lawrence Island depends on just the right combination of ice and winds. Too much ice is not good, too much open water is not good, and too much wind is not good.

Alaska Dispatch, courtesy the Associated Press, reports St. Lawrence natives are again short of walrus meat because of “warm temperatures”: “Warming temps push walrus north, leaving Alaska villages without traditional food source” (Rachel D’Oro, The Associated Press, August 6, 2015). And the caption of the above USGS (A. Sonsthagen) photo predictably implies all current hunting troubles can be blamed on climate channge:

“The walruses in this July 2012 file photo are hauled out in the Eastern Chukchi Sea. Walrus migration patterns have changed as sea ice and other environmental factors have shifted — and that’s spelled trouble for Alaska Native communities who hunt them for subsistence.”

The people of St. Lawrence Island and the Bering Strait that depend on walrus for subsistence have my sympathy, they indeed have a hard life – but this is not a tale of woe about the status of Pacific walrus and changing summer sea ice.

Bering Strait natives hunt walrus in spring, from mid-April to early June (Huntington et al. 2013). All indications are that walrus are moving differently than they used to in summer because the population is now very large.  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).


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US biologists used same flawed models for listing walrus and polar bears as ‘threatened’

More bad science: US biologists successfully used a scientifically flawed model to get polar bears listed as ‘threatened’ and thus emboldened, went on to do the same for walrus.

Walruses_USFWS photo_030515_March 2015

The intricate US Geological Survey model of ‘expert opinion’ that was used to support the listing of polar bears as ‘threatened’ under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been soundly rejected by the world’s leading conservation organization, the IUCN,1 which has has tightened its rules for using “future conditions” (e.g., effects of global warming) in generating Red List assessments. That IUCN condemnation means the USGS model was never “the best available science” for evaluating the status of polar bears  ̶  it was (and still is) substandard, inadequate science that makes a mockery of serious conservation efforts.

However, not only has this flawed model continued to be used by the USGS for polar bears, it has also been used to assess the conservation status of Pacific walrus, which are now officially “candidates” for being listed as ‘threatened’ (US Fish and Wildlife Service 2011).2

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No proof walrus are “struggling from the loss of sea ice” as new Earthjustice lawsuit claims

A new day, a new lawsuit by environmentalists: this time, the species-on-a-pedestal is the same population of Chukchi Sea walrus that generated a news frenzy last month, which apparently still has legs.

Walrus puss_USGS_IMG_4763
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Walrus mass haulout hype refuted, the video

Produced by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, there is now a short video summary of my recently-released GWPF briefing paper, which I wrote and narrated.

Walrus fuss_GWPF video Crockford

Watch it below:

Available also at GWPF TV“The Walrus Fuss – Walrus haulouts are nothing new.”

The briefing paper is here.

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Walrus and sea ice, a summary

I’ve written a briefing paper for the GWPF refuting claims that huge herds of Pacific walruses hauled out on land are a sign of global warming.

Here’s the GWPF press release:

London, 20 October: A briefing paper published today by the Global Warming Policy Foundation refutes claims that Arctic walruses are in distress and danger due to global warming.

The paper, written by Canadian zoologist Dr Susan Crockford, assesses the recent mass haulouts of walrus females and calves on the beaches of Alaska and Russia bordering the Chukchi Sea. The events have been blamed by US government biologists and WWF activists on lack of summer sea ice, amplified into alarming scare stories by news media around the world.

Such claims ignore previous haulouts that suggest a different cause. Scientific reports about large walrus haulouts that have occurred repeatedly over the last 45 years show that they are not new phenomena for this region.

At least two documented incidents of similar magnitude have occurred in the recent past: one in 1978, on eastern St. Lawrence Island and the other in 1972, on the western end of Wrangel Island. The 1978 event involved an estimated total of almost 150,000 walrus hauled out within in a small geographic area.

Moreover, sea ice maps for the months when known mass haulouts occurred, compared to years when they did not, suggest no strong correlation with low sea ice levels.

“The WWF and American walrus biologists have categorically linked the Point Lay mass haulout event to global warming, but available evidence suggests that’s alarmist nonsense,” Dr Crockford said.

“Blaming lack of sea ice for recent events ignores the documented factor – large population size – that drove walruses onto beaches en masse in the past, when plenty of ice was available. Conservation measures have almost certainly led to a spectacular recovery of walrus numbers over the last few years. This suggests that recent mass haulouts are more an indicator that Chukchi walrus are nearing maximum capacity than a sign of impending global warming catastrophe,” Dr Crockford added.

Here’s the paper. [Link fixed, h/t HO]

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Where have all the walrus gone?

Yes, I wondered too. After all the kerfuffle at the beginning of the month there’s been rather dead silence [see my last post here]. So I Googled and found some tidbits.

Chukchi Sea walrus, June 2014. US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Chukchi Sea walrus, June 2014. US Fish and Wildlife Service.

An article a few days ago at one media outlet (October 8, 2014) asked someone from the WWF what happened to the ~35,000 females and calves onshore near Point Lay, Alaska — because really, who else would you ask? Or, perhaps more to the point, would anyone at USGS be expected to answer?

And one online media outlet found walrus specialists in Alaska unwilling to lay all the blame for the recent massive haulout at Point Lay at the feet of low Arctic ice levels due to global warming. See what you think.

UPDATE added below October 13, 2014
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Mass haulouts of female Pacific walrus as a sign of population health

Mass haulouts of female Pacific walrus and their calves in fall don’t happen all the time but they do occur. I recently pointed out (here and here) two instances of such incidents from the 1970s.

I said this provided evidence that the September 2014 incident reported in the media was not “a new phenomenon” for this region, as WWF spokepersons and Alaskan biologists have claimed (reiterated in this PBS interview).

Figure 1. Walrus females and calves hauled out on a beach in Svalbard, photo accompanying an October 6, 2014 news report in “Eye on the Arctic” of the rapidly increasing Atlantic walrus population there. (Photo: Thomas Nilsen/Barents Observer).

Figure 1. Walrus females and calves hauled out on a beach in Svalbard, photo accompanying an October 6, 2014 news report in “Eye on the Arctic” of the rapidly increasing Atlantic walrus population there. (Photo: Thomas Nilsen, Barents Observer).

One aspect of the recent occurrence of a large herd on an Alaskan beach that apparently needs reiterating is that the population of walruses declined rather markedly after a 1970s peak and has rebounded since. This suggests that huge herds of females and calves hauling out on beaches in the fall to feed might only be seen when the population is very large.
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High walrus numbers may explain why females and calves are hauling out in droves

Are the recent mass gatherings of females and calves on the beaches of western Alaska and the Russian Far East a sign that population are again close to the limit the habitat can support, as they were in the 1970s?

At the risk of belabouring the point that lack of sea ice does not seem to be a reasonable explanation for this phenomenon (see my last two posts, here and here, and Andrew Montford’s excellent additions here), I think this is a possibility that needs to be considered.

Walruses at Point Lay Sept 27 2014 NOAA CMDA0007_sm

2014 Point Lay, NOAA photo

Walrus are well protected in the US and Russia, and population numbers have risen again since the 1990s, after significant declines in the early 1900s and again in the 1980s.

A paper from the late 1980s suggests that a return to high population numbers may be a more plausible cause for mass gatherings of females and calves that lead to stampede deaths than does reduced sea ice due to global warming.

Have a look and see what you think. It may not be the only reason but it may be a major contributing factor.

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Mass gatherings of walrus follow-up – sea ice maps for 1978 and 1972

Walruses as polar bear prey and sea ice were on my mind last night and I remembered that we DO have detailed sea ice information for 1978 and 1972 – from the sea ice atlas put together by University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), which has ice concentration maps for Alaska going back to 1850 — and for every year up to 2013 (reported previously here).

Chukchi Sea walrus, June 2014. US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Chukchi Sea walrus, June 2014. US Fish and Wildlife Service.

I’ve copied some of the ice maps below.

It is clear that ice was available close to Wrangel Island in 1972 when walruses chose to haul out on the island in huge numbers. And in 1978, there was ice present to the north of the walrus herd, but they had moved away from the ice to get to St. Lawrence Island, where they hauled out in large numbers.

This means it is more likely that food resources were the issue, not sea ice.
UPDATE OCTOBER 3 2014:

See another interesting follow-up elsewhere: Walrus inconsistencies
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