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Pacific Walrus Sensationalism – Nothing New Under The Sun

Susan Crockford, Polar Bear Science

Large haulouts of walruses — such as the one making news at Point Lay, Alaska on the Chukchi Sea (and which happened before back in 2009) — are not a new phenomenon for this region over the last 45 years and thus cannot be due to low sea ice levels. Nor are deaths by stampede within these herds (composed primarily of females and their young) unusual, as a brief search of the literature reveals.

Pt Lay map Google marked

The attempts by WWF and others to link this event to global warming is self-serving nonsense that has nothing to do with science.


Figure 1. Walrus herd at Pt. Lay Alaska on September 27, 2014. NOAA photo by Corey Arrardo.

This may have been one of the biggest onshore gatherings of the animals documented in Northwest Alaska that has been photographed but it is not the only time this has happened.

At least two documented incidents like this have occurred in the recent past: one in 1978, on St. Lawrence Island and the associated Punuk Islands and the other in 1972, on Wrangell Island (Fay and Kelly 1980, excerpts below).

These events included mass mortality associated with very large herds.

First, here is a detailed map of the area, from a more recent status assessment by Fay and colleagues (Fay et al. 1997).

Walrus haulouts AK_Fay et al 1997 fig 1 map

Here are the relevant excerpts from the mass mortality events for 1978 and 1972 described by Fay and Kelly (1980):

PAGE 239, below

Fay and Kelly 1980_pg 239 St. Lawrence sm

PAGE 241, below

Fay and Kelly 1980_pg 241 sm Punuk islands

PAGE 244, below

Fay and Kelly 1980_pg 244 sm Wrangel islands Aug 1972

PAGE 244 Conclusions, below – note that many of the victims of the stampede were thin and weak – in 1978. Was that due to low ice cover? It was before the satellite era record for sea ice, so that’s hard to determine.

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