Catalog Record: Understanding the Ecology of Pacific Walrus Populations to Support Department of Interior Regulatory Agencies and Provide Information to Native Subsistence Communities
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Understanding the Ecology of Pacific Walrus Populations to Support Department of Interior Regulatory Agencies and Provide Information to Native Subsistence Communities

Using radio tagging to investigate changes in Pacific walrus movements, breeding and hunting in response to climate change and human influence on habitat.

Climate change and its impact on Pacific walruses are of great concern. Female walruses use sea ice to rest and nurse their young in the Bering and Chukchi Seas. They rely on the close proximity of sea ice to the continental shelf where their benthic prey is abundant and accessible to shallow foraging. Sea ice is less extensive and thinner in the Bering Sea, retreating more quickly in late spring, and is less extensive over the shelf in the Chukchi Sea in summer and early fall, than in previous years. This may alter walrus foraging distribution and behavior in the Bering Sea and has resulted in more rapid northward migration of walruses and decreased sea ice habitat within their summer foraging range.

Walruses have become less accessible to Alaska Native subsistence hunting, and anecdotal information suggests that female walruses and calves are responding to decreased sea ice in summer by increasing their use of land haul-outs in Russia, possibly leading to more costly foraging energetics and decreased calf survival.

In addition, oil and gas exploration in northern lease sale planning areas has prompted requests for more information on walrus migration routes and foraging areas in the Chukchi Sea, which are currently not well documented. This information is important to oil and gas industry to help mitigate potential impacts to walruses from offshore exploration and development activities; U.S. Minerals Management Service and Fish and Wildlife Service for oil and gas lease sales, MMPA authorizations, NEPA analyses, and as documentation in the approval of exploration and development plans; and to coastal Native communities that rely on sufficient nearshore access to walruses for subsistence.

USGS is responding to these information needs by initiating new radio-tagging studies in the Bering and Chukchi Seas to better understand changes in walrus distributions and foraging behaviors relative to sea ice conditions. Other studies will be initiated to gain insights into likely population responses to altered walrus distributions and foraging strategies, and an improved understanding of ice dynamics in the Bering and Chukchi Seas relevant to the lives of walruses. Pacific walruses occur throughout the Chukchi and Bering Seas and are important to Native subsistence in Alaska and Russia. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has management authority for this species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and requires population data for management.

Publications: Jay, C. V, B. G. Marcot, and D. C. Douglas. 2011. Projected status of the Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) in the twenty-first century. Polar Biology 34(7):1065-1084.

Jay, C. V., M. S. Udevitz, R. Kwok, A. S. Fischbach, and D. C. Douglas. 2010. Divergent movements of walrus and sea ice in the northern Bering Sea. Marine Ecology Progress Series 407:293-302.

Speckman, S. G., V. I. Chernook, D. M. Burn, M. S. Udevitz, A. A. Kochnev, A. Vasilev, C. V. Jay, A. Lisovsky, A. S. Fischbach, and R. B. Benter. 2010. Results and evaluation of a survey to estimate Pacific walrus population size, 2006. Marine Mammal Science 27: no. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2010.00419.x

Burn, D. B., M. S. Udevitz, S. G. Speckman, and R. B. Benter. 2009. An improved procedure for detection and enumeration of walrus signatures in airborne thermal imagery. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation 11:324-333

Fischbach, A. S., D. H. Monson, and C. V. Jay. 2009. Enumeration of Pacific walrus carcasses on beaches of the Chukchi Sea in Alaska following a mortality event, September 2009. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2009-1291:10.

Udevitz M. S., C. V. Jay, A. S. Fischbach, and J. L. Garlich-Miller. 2009. Modeling haul-out behavior of walruses in Bering Sea ice. Canadian Journal of Zoology 87:1111-1128.

Fischbach, A. S., C. V. Jay, J. V. Jackson, L. W. Andersen, G. K. Sage, and S. L. Talbot. 2008. Molecular method for determining sex of walruses. Journal of Wildlife Management 72:1808-1812.

Jay, C. V. and A. S. Fischbach. 2008. Pacific walrus response to Arctic sea ice losses. U.S. Geological Fact Sheet 2008-3041.

Jay, C. V., P. M. Outridge, and J. L. Garlich-Miller. 2008. Indication of two Pacific walrus stocks from whole tooth elemental analysis. Polar Biology 31:933-943.

Udevitz, M. S., D. M. Burn, and M. A. Webber. 2008. Estimation of walrus populations on sea ice with infrared imagery and aerial photography. Marine Mammal Science 24(1):57-70.

Burn, D. M., M. A. Webber, and M. S. Udevitz. 2006. Application of airborne thermal imagery to surveys of Pacific walrus. Wildlife Society Bulletin 34(1):51-58.

Kucklick, J. R., M. M. Krahn, P. R. Becker, B. J. Porter, M. M. Schantz, G. S. York, T. M. O'Hara, and S. A. Wise. 2006. Persistent organic pollutants in Alaskan ringed seal (Phoca hispida) and walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) blubber. Journal of Environmental Monitoring 8(8):848-854.

Jay, C. V., M. P. Heide-Jørgensen, A. S. Fischbach, M. V. Jensen, D. F. Tessler, and A. V. Jensen. 2006. Comparison of remotely deployed satellite radio transmitters on walruses. Marine Mammal Science 22(1):226-236.

Bornhold, B. D., C. V. Jay, R. McConnaughey, G. Rathwell, K. Rhyna, and W. Collins. 2005. Walrus foraging marks on the seafloor in Bristol Bay, Alaska – a reconnaissance survey. Geo-Marine Letters 25:293-299.

Jay, C. V., and S. Hills. 2005. Movements of walruses radio-tagged in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Arctic 58(2):192-202.

Udevitz, M. S., C. V. Jay, and M. B. Cody. 2005. Observer variability in pinniped counts: Ground-based enumeration of walruses at haul-out sites. Marine Mammal Science 21(1):108-120.

Mulcahy, D. M., P. A. Tuomi, G. W. Garner, and C. V. Jay. 2003. Immobilization of free–ranging male Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) with carfentanil citrate and naltrexone hydrochloride. Marine Mammal Science 19(4):846-850.

Jay, C. V., and G. W. Garner. 2002. Performance of a satellite-linked GPS on Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens). Polar Biology 25:235-237.

Jay, C. V., S. D. Farley, and G. W. Garner. 2001. Summer diving behavior of male walruses in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Marine Mammal Science 17(3):617-631.

Udevitz, M. S., J. R. Gilbert, and G. A. Fedoseev. 2001. Comparison of methods used to estimate numbers of walruses on sea ice. Marine Mammal Science 17(3):601-616.

Garlich-Miller, J., and C. V. Jay (eds.). 2000. Proceedings of a workshop concerning walrus survey methods, Anchorage, Alaska, March 27-28, 2000. Technical Report MMM 00-2, USFWS Marine Mammals Management, Anchorage, Alaska. 92 pp.

Udevitz, M. S. 1999. Modeling variability in replicated surveys at aggregation sites. Pages 167- 177 in G. W. Garner, S. C. Amstrup, J. L. Laake, B. F. J. Manly, L. L. McDonald, D. G. Robertson, eds. Marine mammal survey and assessment methods. A. A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Jay, C. V., T. L. Olson, G. W. Garner, and B. E. Ballachey. 1998. Response of Pacific walruses to disturbances from capture and handling activities at a haul-out in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Marine Mammal Science 14(4):819-828.

Scribner, K. T., S. Hills, S. R. Fain, and M. A. Cronin. 1997. Population genetics studies of the walrus (Odobenus rosmarus): A summary and interpretation of results and research needs. Molecular Genetics of Marine Mammals, Special Publication 3:173-184. (pdf file 1.4 mb)

Douglas, D. C., M. S. Udevitz, J. R. Gilbert, and D. O. Hunter. 1991. Evaluation of airborne videography for enumerating Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) on sea-ice haulouts. Pages 507-513 in Proc. Resour. Technology 90, Int. Symp. on Advanced Technology in Nat. Resour. Manage. Am. Soc. Photogram. and Remote Sensing, Falls Church, Virginia.


Data and Resources

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Status: Complete
Start Date: 2005/01/01
Type: Project
End Date: 2015/12/31
Primary Contacts
Name: Jay Chadwick
Email: cjay@usgs.gov
Primary Organizations
US Geological Survey

Funding Organization
US Geological Survey

Other Organizations
US Fish and Wildlife Service

Alaska, North Slope

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