Big visitors, big challenge

An Alaska Native community and the Service pull together to safeguard Pacific walruses on shore

Cow and calf walrus resting on sea ice. Females and young prefer to hang out on ice floes in small groups where they can easily access feeding grounds and be relatively safe from predators. In recent years as sea ice has retreated north beyond feeding grounds during the summer, they’ve been forced to come to shore to rest. Photo by USFWS.
Leo Ferreira III, former Native Village of Point Lay tribal council president. Photo: USFWS

“When the walrus first started coming to shore, it was kind of strange to us,” said Leo Ferreira III, a former village tribal president. “Then we just realized that there is no ice and that is why they’re coming to shore.”

The arrival of these big visitors has prompted a partnership that includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) — an effort designed to protect the seagoing mammals and their young while on shore. These efforts include monitoring the haulout and working to prevent human-caused disturbances.

Point Lay Elder Allen Upicksoun. Photo: USFWS

“We had a few times that they gathered through here. They’d say, ‘oh we got lots of walrus up north,’ but there were like 10–12, not, you know, 40,000.”

Aircraft overflights are particularly concerning. “We noticed that during that time the airplane traffic was causing stampedes,” said Ferreira. “I witnessed it with my own eyes.”

Cilia Attungowruk, a tribal council member, watches for barges or vessels to make sure they don’t come too close or stop at the haulout. “Our community and our elders are really good at watching the ocean and the lagoon to make sure there’s no traffic coming fairly close to scare those walruses,” she said. Photo by Brian Adams
Warren Lampe has helped monitor the haulout for several years. February 2018, Warren stands next to an illustration of the walrus haulout stewardship presentation he and Service staff gave at an environmental conference in Anchorage, Alaska. Photo by USFWS
Warren Lampe and USFWS staff presented at an environmental conference in Anchorage, Alaska, in February 2018. Here, Warren stands with notes drawn by a graphic artist during the presentation. Photo: USFWS

Stories from Alaska by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

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