North Slope Walrus Haul-Out Update
There has been considerable interest in the recent appearance of large
numbers of Pacific walrus hauled out on beaches in the vicinity of Point
Lay, Alaska. The purpose of this release is to provide updated material on
the situation and on the steps the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its
partners are taking to protect the walrus until they move on.
In late August, Point Lay residents began reporting a large aggregation of
Pacific walruses forming on a barrier island near their community. Coastal
aerial surveys sponsored by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management,
Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), and a walrus research team from the U.
S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimate that as many 10,000-20,000 walruses
were hauled out along the barrier island north west of Point Lay during the
first week of September. More recent site visits by U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service biologists and Point Lay residents suggest that the number of
animals at this site have declined in recent days (estimates of 500 - 3,000
animals). It isn’t clear yet, however, whether the majority of the animals
have actually moved from this haul-out site or were merely at sea feeding
during these recent observations.
Currently the Service believes that the greatest risk to walruses along the
coast is the potential for disturbance events that may cause these large
dense herds to stampede into the water. Walrus calves are particularity
vulnerable to trauma and injury during stampedes. In order to prevent this
from happening, the agency has worked with a number of partners, including
the Federal Aviation Authority, the Eskimo Walrus Commission, the North
Slope Borough, and individuals in the communities closest to the haul-outs,
to communicate the following guidelines:
GUIDELINES FOR PILOTS: Pilots should avoid flying near coastal
haul-outs. Fixed-winged aircraft traveling along the coast should
maintain a minimum altitude of 1,500 feet near coastal haul-outs and
maintain a lateral distance of ½ mile. Activities such as buzzing,
circling, landing, taking off, and taxiing near walrus groups are
likely to cause disturbances. When weather conditions allow, pilots
should fly well inland from walrus groups to avoid flushing animals
into the water.
GUIDELINES FOR MARINE VESSELS: Marine vessels should maintain a ½
mile buffer from shore when transiting past a walrus haul-out.
Vessels should avoid excessive speed or sudden changes in direction
near walrus groups encountered in the water.
GUIDELINES FOR LAND BASED-VIEWING: People should approach walruses
cautiously when hauled out on land. Viewing walruses should be done
is a manner that allows them to remain unaware of human presence. The
use of binoculars can help to ensure a good view without causing
GUIDELINES FOR WALRUS HUNTERS: The discharge of firearms near coastal
haul-outs can result in a stampede and incidental mortalities. People
should exercise caution when hunting near coastal haul-outs to avoid
unintentional disturbances and mortalities.
The harassment of walruses violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Incidences of harassment should be reported to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service Office of Law Enforcement:
Toll-free at: 1-877-535-1795.
For more information about walrus conservation and management programs in
http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm/walrus/wmain.htm or call the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, Marine Mammals Management office at (800) 362-5148.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to
conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for
the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and
trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific
excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated
professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our
work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.