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Home* News and Stories → Wal­rus popu­la­ti­on is gro­wing in Spits­ber­gen

Wal­rus popu­la­ti­on is gro­wing in Spits­ber­gen

Good news about arc­tic wild­life popu­la­ti­ons – do they exist? The­re is, of cour­se and for good (or, rather, bad) reason, a lot of atten­ti­on on cli­ma­te chan­ge and how polar bears and other spe­ci­es will cope with life in a world with less and less ice.

But then the­re are also wal­rus­ses (click here for some gene­ral infor­ma­ti­on about the­se love­ly ani­mals). Seve­ral colo­nies in the Spits­ber­gen area (Sval­bard) are moni­to­red with auto­ma­tic kame­ras to fol­low the num­bers of ani­mals coming and going. Results so far indi­ca­te a gro­wing popu­la­ti­on and the plea­sant obser­va­ti­on that wal­rus­ses are not bothe­red by tou­rists. It is rather the occa­sio­nal polar bear who is serious­ly dis­tur­bing res­t­ing wal­rus­ses – the­se ruthl­ess polar bears just don’t keep the mini­mum distances.

Walrus with satellite sender, Edgeøya

Wal­rus with satel­li­te sen­der, Edgeøya.

Addi­tio­nal­ly, some wal­rus are equip­ped with satel­li­te sen­ders to fol­low migra­ti­on pat­terns. This is important to estab­lish which per­cen­ta­ge of the total popu­la­ti­on in an area is res­t­ing on shore while the others are in the water. Data show that about 25 % of the wal­rus­ses are res­t­ing on show while the majo­ri­ty of 75 % is swim­ming.

This know­ledge makes the num­ber of wal­rus seen at the colo­ny sites on shore a good indi­ca­ti­on for the total regio­nal popu­la­ti­on. Cen­su­s­es are made rough­ly every 5 years with small pla­nes equip­ped for the pur­po­se. They fol­low the coast­li­ne in an alti­tu­de of 1000 feet (a good 300 m) while taking pho­tos. Pre­vious counts were made in 2006 and 2012 and the most recent one fol­lo­wed in August 2018. All colo­nies are sur­vey­ed in a time frame as short as pos­si­ble to make sure indi­vi­du­als are not coun­ted twice ase they may make visits to fri­ends and col­le­agues at other res­t­ing places.

86 colo­nies were sur­vey­ed in Sval­bard in August 2018. The num­ber of wal­rus obser­ved varied from 0 in many cases to a maxi­mum of 269.

Walrus colony, Moffen

Wal­rus colo­ny on Mof­fen.

And what is the result? The num­ber of wal­rus­ses pre­sent in the who­le of Sval­bard in August 2018 was esti­ma­ted bet­ween 5031 and 6036 indi­vi­du­als. Nai­led down to one figu­re, the popu­la­ti­on size is 5503 ani­mals, as was repor­ted noy by Chris­ti­an Lyder­sen, Magnus Ander­sen, Jade Vac­quie Gar­cia, Samu­el Llo­bet and Kit Kovacs (Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te) in an artic­le in Sval­bard­pos­ten. This is 42 % more than coun­ted the last time in 2012. A very posi­ti­ve deve­lo­p­ment! But no sur­pri­se if you con­sider that wal­rus­ses were hun­ted almost to regio­nal extinc­tion until pro­tec­tion final­ly came in 1952. The cur­rent growth of the popu­la­ti­on is still a reac­tion to the end of hun­ting, just as with the polar bear popu­la­ti­on in the same area.

Walrus cow with calf

Wal­rus cow with calf: beau­tiful sym­bol for a gro­wing popu­la­ti­on.

It will, howe­ver, take many more deca­des befo­re the popu­la­ti­on will be even remo­te­ly near ori­gi­nal levels, if this ever hap­pens again.



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last modification: 2018-12-18 · copyright: Rolf Stange