Round Island Walrus Project
Ocean Connections is committed to animal conservation globally. Recently our conservation efforts have led to the Alaskan coastline and one of the largest walrus sanctuaries in North America.
Round Island is one of 7 small islands that are protected by the Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary (WISGS). This string of islands located in Bristol Bay, AK forms a sanctuary for several species of seabirds, Stellar sea lions and is one of the largest terrestrial haul out sites in North America for pacific walrus with counts of 2,000 – 5,000 walrus residing. The remote wilderness is uninhabited with the exception of a small field camp on Round Island which provides the opportunity for wildlife to be monitored and the sanctuary protected.
With the amount of sea ice decreasing due to climate change, studying the population patterns of the Pacific walrus at these protected land haul out sites can provide us with much needed information regarding their habits including information about their breeding season, haul out time between food dives, length of food dives before returning to haul out, frequency of disturbances, results of disturbances and so much more.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game provides staff at a Camp on Round Island through the summer months. These staff members are responsible for a number of duties that aide in protecting and monitoring the Island and its inhabitants. In 2015, some of their duties included installing 5 live webcams around the island, conducting daily population counts and various data collection, aiding in the remote imaging of haul out spaces, monitoring the island for possible disturbances that may cause the walrus to flee, and helping to minimize the sources for disturbances.
As one of the largest members of the pinniped family, which includes seals and sea lions, walruses are a critical member of the marine ecosystem. The Pacific walrus is found in the Bering and Chukchi seas, hauling out on sea ice and on the coasts of Alaska and Russia.
ice is not available, the walrus population is forced to adapt and will move to rest on rocky shores and beaches. The success of their haul out space; however, is dependent on the availability of their food source, which includes clams, snails, and sea cucumbers on low depth beds below the sea surface. Walrus spend a great deal of their day exerting calories foraging; which requires repeated shallow dives in order to acquire a sufficient quantity of food. Between dives, walrus are dependent upon ice or beaches within close range to their foraging locations for rest. As the ice decreases, their ability to successfully reach their food source decreases as well, unless there is a nearby beach such Round Island which can serve as a haul out area for walrus. Life expectancy for the walrus can be up to 40 years; however, the change within our climate is impacting their survival.
The health and stability of the walrus population is largely unknown at this time, due to the fact that walrus are a difficult species to study. Walrus are known to be a flighty species, meaning they will flee into the ocean for days on end due at even the slightest disturbance, such as crashing rocks or a passing boat. When walrus flee suddenly, a stampede occurs which often results to trampling of other animals, causing injury and death and can result in the colony remaining at sea for extended periods of time.
Round Island plays an important role in the conservation of this specie allowing field researchers to learn more about their behavior, environmental needs and challenges through observation, all while protecting the resource of their environment which they are so dependent upon.
Unfortunately, this past year, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game was unable to provide the funds to continue to staff Round Island as they have for many years. Ocean Connections is a part of a team of accredited facilities that is committed to supporting the continued efforts of the WISGS. Through the support of generous donations led by Ocean Connections, Alaska Sea Life Center, Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium, Georgia Aquarium and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Round Island continues to be staffed and operational during the summer months. These continued efforts in collecting valuable data and monitoring and protecting Round Island and its inhabitants, make it possible to learn more about the walrus, which will allow for a plan to be created and implemented that will hopefully aide in the longevity of the Pacific walrus.
Learn more about Round Island and the Pacific walrus population here - http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=walrusislands.main (Photo Credit to Alaska Department of Fish and Game)
Watch the live video feed during the summer months, or highlight reels during the off season here - http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=walrusislands.main
Make a donation today to help support Ocean Connections and the work at Round Island. Click here! http://oceansoffun.org/giving_back