Follow a Journey to an Atlantic Walrus Wonderland – Franz Josef Land

Young Walrus Following along
A younger walrus follows the National Geographic media team around Rubini Rock. Photo by Lucie McNeil.

It’s things like this that still, after all these years, get me excited about National Geographic – the magazine that was a staple of every coffee table in every house I grew up in. There’s this place, up in the middle of absolute nowhere, called Franz Josef Land. It’s the sort of place that still draws explorers, since almost no one can get there. You see, Franz Josef Land is probably one of, if not THE most inaccessible island chains (archipelago actually) that there is. Basically, you get to Svalbard – already pretty much at the end of the Earth – and then turn northeast and keep going, and going, until you are about as far from any land mass as you can get. And there you are.

Fans of the walrus have their whiskers perk up when they hear the name Svalbard, since it’s pretty much Atlantic walrus central. One would assume that if you were already in Svalbard, and kept going northeast, one would run into a lot of walrus. One would be right!

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala is setting off to explore Franz Josef Land, one of the most remote archipelagos in the world, only 900 km from the North Pole. Home to polar bears, whales, seals and more, the team will investigate how global warming may be affecting this crucial ecosystem in ways we still do not fully comprehend.  Follow his adventures throughout the month.

The posts have titles guaranteed to attract a guy like me – “Walruses in the Mist” and “Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Walruses Roam”. There are incredible photos and engaging text snippets. The posts are short, but they give you a feeling for what must be a mystical, albeit cold adventure!

Here’s a link to all the blog posts tagged Franz Josef Land on National’s Explorer’s Journal. I’ll be following along and I hope you will too!

Here’s a link to the Wikipedia page about Franz Josef Land.

Satellite Tracking Walrus in the Pechora Sea

We post very few articles about the Atlantic Walrus, so this one caught my eye. The World Wildlife Fund is using satellite imagery to track a small population of Altlantic Walrus in the Pechora Sea north of Russia. The walrus population is growing, but so is oil drilling activity in this sea.

The success of deciphering walruses with the help of satellite images, along with field-studies, will allow environmentalists and scientists to quickly get an idea about the population. That will help us to develop measures for preservation in an area of booming industrial activities, says Alexey Knizhnikov with the WWF in Moscow.

Satellites to Track Walrus: Is it noted that the program is planned to expand in 2012 to include more walrus populations throughout the Russian Arctic.

There is a link to the satellite image here  – but the site is in Russian. More info is at the WWF, but I can’t find the page in English. Here’s a link to the Russian page

Using Google Translate, the page text is:

Satellite imagery – a real breakthrough in the study of Atlantic walrus in the Barents Sea

Today, the Day of the Walrus, experts summarized the study and protection of walruses per year, assessed the threat of new industrial projects in their habitat, and discussed a new way to protect them – satellite monitoring.

The main purpose of this meeting an expert advisory group – to develop new measures to minimize threats to walrus of industrial projects in the Arctic. This year, the date of the meeting of expert group took place at the International Day of the walrus – a new holiday, which WWF has established jointly with the marine mammals in 2008.

Summer satellite imagery made ​​it possible to track the distribution and numbers of walruses on shore haul out. For example, on the island of Matveev (cluster Nenets reserve) found a rookery of 200 individuals, on the shore of the peninsula Lyamchin – 400. Experts are sure that we can speak about the effectiveness of the use of satellite information, not only for accurate detection haul animals, but also counting their number.

 The success in deciphering the walrus by using satellite imagery, along with ground-based studies, will allow environmental and scientific organizations to quickly get basic information about the Red Book as a , – says Alexey Knizhnikov, WWF Russia expert. – This will help to develop measures for its preservation in a  boom “Economic development in the region. Obtained valuable experience interpreting clusters walrus, which can be successfully applied to other species. “

Due to the success of the first pilot project and the results obtained, the organizers of the work (WWF Russia, the Council on Marine Mammals and RDC) plan, starting in 2012 to conduct a multiple-time imagery of walrus haul-out sites throughout the Russian Arctic – in addition to the Barents Sea to the Kara interpretation of walrus , East Siberian Sea and Laptev Sea. With this data, WWF plans to exactly one year to the next Day of the Walrus, walrus haul-out sites to map in the Russian Arctic, and to restore the legal status of protection zones not only walruses and other marine mammals.

Assessment of adverse effects and risks to the population of Atlantic walrus is becoming a priority due to the installation in August 2011 a huge platform Prirazlomnaya in the Pechora Sea. It will store up to 120 thousand tons of oil in the case of spills at sea can reach tens of thousands of tons of oil. But the view of environmental organizations such high ecological risks are unacceptable today.

Although a unique Russian subspecies of walrus is recognized, these efforts seem directed at a population of Atlantic Walrus. A small population to be sure, but it appears from the info to be growing.

Whither the Altantic Walrus?

If you’ve read this blog for any time at all, you’ll note that my posts are pretty much Pacific Walrus-centric. This may be because I live in Oregon, so Google is likely serving me up more “western” results, but the more likely explanation is that that Pacific Walrus is the more visible population. I’ve had a few more visits this week than usual to the site via the search term “atlantic walrus”, which has got me wondering about the state of our more easterly tusked friends. The Atlantic walrus is smaller than the Pacific walrus, both in size and population. You can Google it of course, and if you do, you’ll find this among the links:

The Atlantic walrus can be found in small pockets from northern Canada to Greenland, migrating south in the winter to avoid the encroaching ice.   (link to complete article)

My Mom has been to Greenland, but only to the airport back in the day when one needed to stop in Greenland to refuel when flying from New York to Europe. I don’t think she saw any walrus in the terminal, but it WAS the 60’s so who knows….

I need to look in on the Atlantic Walrus and see what’s going on back there.

Uhaul Walrus Graphic

One of the things I’ve enjoyed over the years are the high-quality postcard-style vector illustrations decorating the sides of U-haul moving trucks. There are several for each state and of course, the series includes a walrus!

This illustration is one of several for the state of Maine. The text refers to the presence of Walrus in Maine during and after the last ice age. I have more information about these Altantic Walrus coming in a future post. It’s a change from our usual focus on the more common Pacific Walrus.

As for U-Haul, the illustration series is highlighted on a excellent series of webpages at U-Haul’s site. The explain the illustrations, have PDF coloring versions of each illustration and lots of information about the subject matter of each of the graphics.

Here’s a link to the walrus-specific page:
Here’s the Coloring Book PDF link (downloadable PDF file):

You can’t book a flight, or a Uhaul to Maine if you want to see walrus these days, seems like we’ve all missed them by a few years… I really enjoy this series and give much credit to the effort that U-haul has put towards the support of this marketing campaign.