More than 160 years of Walrus Haulout Observations Reported by Russians and Americans Published as Database

Release Date:

Information will aid marine and conservation planning

The Pacific Walrus Coastal Haulout Database, based on generations of observations shared by Russians and Americans over more than 160 years, is now available to assist planning efforts of wildlife managers, mariners, industry and others operating in the Arctic.

Wildlife Biologist Anatoly Kochnev observing a very large walrus haulout at Cape Serdtse­Kamen'
Russian wildlife biologist views large walrus haulout at Cape Serdtse­Kamen', Chokotka, RussiaAnatoly Kochnev, Mammals Ecology Lab Institute of Biological Problems of the North Far East Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences

The database shows where walrus haulouts may be found. This information is vital to reduce the risk of mortality events from human-caused disturbance or pollution.

“It's great to see this information in a consistent format, on a user-friendly platform, and up to date,” said James MacCracken, walrus program supervisor at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This should be very useful to anyone planning activities that may occur near a haulout and as well as the USFWS’s assessment of those activities.” 

Walruses are large marine predators that must rest out of water on sea ice or the coast between feedings along the shallow arctic sea floor. Female Pacific walruses and their calves in particular traditionally spend summers far from shore. However in recent years, loss of summer sea ice over the continental shelf has forced many walruses to travel to the Arctic coasts of the U.S. and Russia where they haul-out on shore to rest. When hauling out on the coast, they often gather in large numbers and use specific locations, termed haulouts, where they may be vulnerable to disturbance and pollution events.

To produce the database, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and their Russian counterparts at the Russian Academy of Sciences and Chukot-TINRO, combed through published reports, state records, as well as observations from coastal residents, aviators and scientists.

“This database reveals the full geographic context of all places where Pacific walruses have been observed repeatedly resting on shore or in large numbers,” said Anthony Fischbach, wildlife biologist with the USGS. “The database is the result of generations of Russians and Americans, who openly shared their wildlife observations.”

The data can be used in GIS applications, such as Google Earth, or worked with in NOAA’s Arctic Environmental Response Management Application.

Each haulout entry in the database provides a narrative describing the geography and history of reported use with citations to reports and personal communications. The publication of these data are possible because of the long-standing good working relationship that scientists have across the Bering Strait dating back to the first joint surveys in 1975.

A summary report of this database provides an overview of the distribution patterns of the Pacific walrus haulouts.

The walrus research reflects a large interagency and international effort including USGS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Russian Academy of Sciences and Chukot-TINRO. USGS is also coordinating with the US Coast Guard, NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration, Eskimo Walrus Commission, North Slope Borough, affected National Wildlife Refuges, the NPS Bering Straits Land Bridge and the State Department.  

 

Map showing Pacific walrus coastal haulout locations
Map showing Pacific walrus coastal haulout locations reported in the past four decades (1980s– 2010s), with a maximum aggregation size of greater than or equal to 1,000 walruses.

Additional Resources:

USGS Alaska Science Center Walrus web page 

Full-Length USGS Video

Tracking Pacific Walrus: Expedition to the Shrinking Chukchi Sea Ice 

B-roll Video

View of a very large haulout from the ground

View of a very large haulout from the air

Haul-Out FAQ 

The Science Behind the 2011 Walrus Haul-Out FAQs

Audio clips from walruses hauled out on the northwest coast of Alaska

1,500 walruses resting on shore
More than 1,500 walruses resting on shore at Cape Grieg in southeastern Bristol BaySarah Schoen, USGS​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Public domain
Photo of two walruses being very social animals
Walruses are very social animals and like to be in constant contact with other walruses. Photo taken during USGS research efforts permitted under US Fish and Wildlife Service Permit No. MA801652-3Ryan Kingsbery, USGS Public domain
Walruses resting on shore near Point Lay, Alaska.
Walruses gathered by the tens of thousands in September 2013 to rest on the shores of the Chukchi Sea near the coastal village of Point Lay, Alaska. Walruses are finding it increasingly difficult to remain offshore in over their preferred foraging grounds in the eastern Chukchi Sea due to unprecedented loss of sea ice in the autumn, which has completely disappeared during 5 of the past 7 years. Drifting sea ice gives walruses a platform to rest on between foraging dives. Without sea ice walruses turn to shore to rest, which forces them to either to commute offshore foraging grounds or to forage near­shore over lower quality foraging grounds. The USGS Walrus Research Project is focused on tracking tagged walrus to understand how a loss of sea ice may be affecting the walrus. (Photo taken during USGS research efforts permitted under US Fish and Wildlife Service Permit No. MA801652­3)Ryan Kingsbery, USGSPublic domain
Walruses resting on shore at Cape Serdtse­Kamen' haulout area
Cape Serdtse­Kamen' has been reported as a walrus haulout since the 1920. Up until 1990 it was used by walruses irregularly, only in autumn of years when sea ice was absent. Sporadic Aerial surveys have reported no more than 12 thousand walruses here from 1960 through 1990. However during the 1990’s and 2000’s local residents reported that walruses began to hauling out annually in larger numbers. Biologist Anatoly Kochnev was the first to conducted continuous monitoring of the haulout during August through November of 2009, and estimated nearly 100 thousand walruses hauled out along 20­km coastline. It became clear that in the end of autumn almost all of the Chukchi Sea portion of the Pacific walrus population had rested here. Since 2009 this haulout has been monitored annualy by ChukotTINRO biologists. Anatoly Kochnev, Mammals Ecology Lab Institute of Biological Problems of the North Far East Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences
USGS wildlife biologist working with walruses
USGS wildlife biologist working with walruses resting on shore near Point Lay, Alaska. Walruses gathered by the tens of thousands in September 2013 to rest on the shores of the Chukchi Sea near the coastal village of Point Lay, Alaska. Walruses are finding it increasingly difficult to remain offshore in over their preferred foraging grounds in the eastern Chukchi Sea due to unprecedented loss of sea ice in the autumn, which has completely disappeared during 5 of the past 7 years. Drifting sea ice gives walruses a platform to rest on between foraging dives. Without sea ice walruses turn to shore to rest, which forces them to either to commute offshore foraging grounds or to forage near­shore over lower quality foraging grounds. The USGS biologist in this photo is working to apply a behavior tracking radios to walruses to better understand how a loss of sea ice may be affecting the walrus. (Photo taken during USGS research efforts permitted under US Fish and Wildlife Service Permit No. MA801652­3)Ryan Kingsbery, USGS​​​​​​​Public domain