Norway: Rapid growth in Svalbard walrus population

Walruses on Svalbard. (Thomas Nilsen/Barents Observer)
Walruses on Svalbard. (Thomas Nilsen/Barents Observer)
Hunted for nearly 350 years, walruses in the Norwegian Arctic were on the brink of extinction. Then came the neighbours swimming from Russia’s Franz Josef Land.

Counted from aircrafts, 3,886 walruses were on Svalbard in 2012, up more than 1,200 animals from last counting in 2006, reports the Norwegian Polar Institute.

After being hunted down for hundreds of years, the walruses on Svalbard were protected by law in 1952. At that time, they were extremely seldom spotted. In the early 80ies, some 100 animals came to the archipelago, most likely from Russia’s Arctic Islands of Franz Josef Land east of Svalbard.

“This is gratifying figures showing that Norway’s long-term protection policy on Svalbard has been a success. A number of other animal populations that previously were over-hunted, like polar bears and the Svalbard reindeer, have increased seriously after both the species and their habitats have been strictly protected,” says Tine Sundtoft, Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment in a comment.

According to the Norwegian Polar Institute, not only the numbers of walruses increase, but also the number of locations where walruses are observed, from 78 in 2006 to 91 in 2012.

Climate change a threat

Although the population is increasing, the future of walruses on Svalbard is as uncertain as in other places around the circumpolar Arctic. Climate changes reduce the most needed sea ice.

Walruses depend on enough floating sea ice to stay offshore when making short dives to the seafloor for grabbing food. In between the dives, the walrus stays on the ice floes for rest and nurture calves.

Two weeks ago, a congregation of 35,000 walruses were spotted the village of Inupiat in Alaska.

The huge gathering onshore is believed to be a result of that walruses no longer have sea ice to rest on along Alaska’s northern coast to the Chukchi Sea, reports the portal Eye on the Arctic

The Arctic sea ice is at its smallest in September.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Nunavut hunters seeing fewer ringed seals in Canada’s eastern Arctic, CBC News

Finland:  Building dens for Finland’s Saimaa seals, Yle News

Iceland: Endangered whale meat shipped from Iceland via Halifax, The Canadian Press

Sweden: Rare dolphin spotted on Sweden’s west coast, Radio Sweden

United States:  Biologists spot huge gathering of walruses in Arctic Alaska, Alaska Dispatch



Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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