Mary River Mine: Another Challenge to Walrus Habitat

Obviously, walrus already face a number of challenges related to habitat and sea ice loss related to global climate change. But of course, development and human activity have just as great an impact on walrus. Here’s a recent example – Baffinland Iron Mine Co’s Mary River Mine. The proposed mine is to be located on Baffin Island and according to the recently files Environmental Imact Statement, mining activities will have an impact on local species including (Pacific) Walrus. The impact on species including Arctic Char,  Pacific Walrus and numerous other mammals is alleged to be “negligible,” “small in magnitude” and “fully reversible” – however the EIS concedes that “walrus habitat will change for the life of the Project as a result of the footprint of the dock structures”, which sounds like more than a “negligible” impact to this blogger.

The local paper, Nunatsiaq Online, has the full story at this link: “Nunavut’s Mary River mine could disrupt water, Arctic char and walrus”.

What does a Walrus Sound Like, 2.0

I originally posted on this topic some months ago here (What Does a Walrus Sound Like?) but I just now discovered a great new interview via NOVA Science Now that will really give you a complete picture of the types of sounds a walrus makes. This is from the walruses at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA – where you may be aware they are awaiting the imminent and very rare birth of a walrus calf! This is a great audio/photo feature.

The interactive feature is packed with GORGEOUS walrus photos, lots of info thanks to trainer Leah Coombs of Six Flags and Dr. Colleen Reichmuth of UC Santa Cruz. This is old, it’s from ’09 but it’s new to me, and likely new to you too. Sivuqaq and Uquq, two of the featured walruses, are today’s expectant parents!

Here’s the link to the interview (transcript and audio) over at

And that’s what a Walrus sounds like.

Walruses just aren’t meant to drive 200 MPH.

(Juan Pablo Montoya on Williams-BMW, United States GP 2004, by Rick Dikeman Fron English Wikipedia)

The (McLaren F1) team began the season with a radical nose-cone design, known as the “Walrus-Nose”, that proved uncompetitive and was replaced by a more conventional assembly in the second half of the year. (from full Williams F1 article @ wikipedia)

This post is thanks to news today that Williams Grand Prix Engineering Limited (WilliamsF1) is redeveloping the “Walrus nose” design for their formula 1 racecars  to generate more downforce, especially in urban settings and better absorb the turbulence associated with the high speeds of Formula 1 racing.

Didn’t expect to post about THAT today!

Worldwide Walrus Population

I noticed in my site logs that someone came to the site today off of the Google Query “How many Pacific Walruses are there in the world?” A good question – so I Googled it myself, and I’ll add the info to the site now, thanks to the excellent “Walrus Info Book” on (Link to HTML, Link to PDF).

  1. Total world walrus population is about 250,000 animals.
  2. The Pacific walrus population is currently unknown but was last estimated at more than 200,000 animals in 1990.
    • The Pacific walrus population has been hunted to depletion and allowed to recover several times.
    • After the latest population depletion, which began in the 1930s, Pacific walruses were given protection by Russia, the State of Alaska, and the U.S. federal government. This protection led to the eventual recovery of the Pacific walrus population. Walruses reoccupied areas where they had not been seen for several years.
    • By the early 1980s, walruses appeared leaner. They increased their consumption of alternate foods such as fishes. Natural mortality increased, and birth rates decreased. This evidence supports the theory that the Pacific walrus population may have approached the carrying capacity of its environment.
    • As the Pacific walrus population grew, annual subsistence catches by indigenous Arctic peoples ranged from about 3,000 to 16,000 walruses per year until about 1990, and then decreased to an average of 5,789 animals per year from 1996 to 2000. Some scientists predict that, without long-term management, natural and human-related mortality factors could rapidly reduce the population once more.
    • Currently the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the Russian Knipovich Polar Research Institute are jointly undertaking a walrus population study. Using infrared imaging they locate walrus groups hauled out on sea ice. High resolution digital photography allows researchers to estimate group numbers. They also use satellite telemetry to estimate the percentage of the population visible during counts

So now we’ve got the info as well! Although I notice that this info refers to 1990 counts, and one must assume that there have been wide variations in population since then. Very likely an overall reduction I’m afraid. EDIT 4/7/2011: Looks like the revised numbers have the current Pacific Walrus numbers at only 180,000 animals. When I find the official update report, I will repost the correct and latest numbers.

Adults Only! Walrus babies the goal of new scientific research

Photo: Karen T Borchers, San Jose Mercury News

The folks at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA are trying to breed walruses. This is a challenge. Why? Well, according to marine mammal reproductive physiologist Holley Muraco….

The love lives of Pacific Walruses have long been shrouded in secrecy. They mate underwater, at remote, vast and icy habitats, during the Arctic Circle’s longest and darkest nights.

And there is growing concern for their survival because sea ice is melting. Zoos don’t want to collect from these perilous wild populations, and seek instead to increase the genetic diversity of their captive populations.

In the eight decades that walruses have been kept captive, only 11 babies have been born; of those, merely six survived. Fewer than 20 now exist in American zoos, and many are aging, Muraco said.

An then it gets… interesting… So if you’re in the mood to break up your day reading about the R&D process behind manufacturing a walrus sex-toy that allows for some REALLY impressive girth… Like I said – this one’s not for the kids!

Here’s the link to the full article on the Mercury News Site which includes a nice photo gallery:

Random Walrus Fact of the Day

Modern walruses do not use their teeth to chew molluscs like sea otters do. Instead, they hold a clam in their lips, and the vaulted palate allows them to use their tongue as a powerful piston to suck the soft parts right out of the clam shell. The shell is then dropped to the seafloor, never entering the oral cavity.

From the Wikipedia entry for “Imagotaria downsi” an extinct species of  walrus.

Umky Patrol: Protecting us from polar bears, protecting walrus from themselves.

This video just showed up on YouTube.  This is from the from the World Wildlife Fund and explains their “Umky Patrols” which is a partnership with the Chukchi in Northern Russia. Primarily to keep polar bears from continuing to intrude on villages and become scavengers, the patrols are also protecting the large walrus haul-outs occurring (apparently) on the Russian “side” as well. Their protection of the walrus is centered on controlling panicked stampedes among the large haul outs, which result in crushed calf walruses. The walrus portion of this video starts at 1:29, although there are some disturbing images of dead walrus – so this one’s probably not for the younger kids.

The Umky Patrol highlighted here is in Russia – but we’ve got the same issues going on in Alaska. In fact the Chuchki apparently recently visited their counterparts in Alaska to share expertise and hopefully extend the protective efforts to “our” fragile Arctic animals as well.

Chukotka, by the way – is directly across the Bering Strait from Alaska and is the closest Russian territory to the US. That part of Russia that Sarah Palin can “see” from her back porch – it’d be Chukotka. That would make these Pacific Walruses.

For more on WWF’s work in the Arctic, and on the Umky Patrol, visit:

If walrus is on the menu…

I’ve blogged about igunaq before, here: Queue This up for Survivor: Greenland

Forgive me for not pulling a pic from this video. Here’s the link.

I haven’t decided what to have for dinner tonight, but I can’t tell you what I WON’T be eating…

Watch Great Migrations Tonight

The Daily Galaxy alerts us to the following:

Walrus Migration
Walrus Migration Shot

This stunning image of Alaska’s annual walrus migration is from the new National Geographic mini-series, Great Migrations, which will premiere this Sunday in high-definition and include seven episodes focused on the inspirational, often harrowing animal migrations across the globe.

The story goes on to highlight various quotes from articles about current global warming concerns and the major haul-out that has occurred this fall, which we have blogged about int he recent past. In case we get fooled for a minute thinking that walruses are just good models for stuffed animals and amusing cartoon characters, the Daily  Galaxy article ends with the quote:

Unless we dramatically reduce our greenhouse emissions, the walrus is on a trajectory toward extinction

Here’s a link to the entire Daily Galaxy story.

Here’s a link to the Great Migrations page at National (warning this page launches with rather loud advertising audio). My son and I will be tuning into watch this show tonight, and I hope they’ll make it available on-demand, since I’m notoriously bad at watching shows when they are actually scheduled to be on. Oh, it’s on the National Geographic channel by they way.

One more interesting note, to me at least. The photo heading the post, and the Daily Galaxy post, is by Paul Nicklen and is available as Desktop Wallpaper from National and you can buy a photographic print of this photo at the National Geographic photo store at this link. I did! I’ve had this photo framed on my wall for over a year, after I saw it in the print edition of the Geographic (April 2009). So uh, don’t sue me Paul, for using your print on this post – I bought one!

I remember back in the day when the occasional National Geographic special would be a family event, where we would all gather around the TV and wait for that short lead in “Special!” long before cable TV and several constant National Geographic channels. Looking forward to that feeling tonight. I’ll be watching for walruses!