Apart from that, researchers use trail cameras to document the animal behavior. A trail camera is a waterproof and impact-protected small camera that take pictures at predetermined intervals. Researchers fix the camera on a tall metal pole near the haulout. Trail camera comes with SD cards and yearlong lithium batteries; it takes pictures once an hour. Thus, we receive data on the beginning and the end of the haulout formation, as well as on the quantity of the animals that came ashore and the events of abandoning the haulout.

The research should obviously be continued. During the 2015 expedition, the researchers resumed working on the walrus haulouts, collected genetic samples to define connections between different walrus congregations, continued their work on tracking migration and habitat of the pinnipeds via satellite tags, and assessed health conditions of the animals, listed in the Red book of Russia.

These data will eventually lay the foundation for a comprehensive set of measures to save the species and its habitat in the context of active development of the Arctic.

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Scientists have been implementing walrus range and habitat research programs since 2009. They organized onshore and offshore explorations, which resulted in revealing new haulouts. Skin biopsy samples were collected for genetics and toxicology reasons for the first time in the history of Russian research into Atlantic walrus. In 2011 and 2012 at one of the haulouts, walruses were tagged with satellite tags, which enabled researchers to locate their migration paths as well as their range and habitat.
 

The Marine Mammal Council researchers together with the WWF experts thoroughly examined the Atlantic walrus haulouts as part of the 2015 Complex Arctic Expedition. The largest haulout, a habitat of 900 walruses, has been discovered at Cape Bolshoy Lyamchin. Satellite tags have been installed on eight animals, which allows to track the pinnipeds’ location online and to study their migration paths. 

Contemporary methods of the Atlantic Walrus research


How much do we know about walruses? As it turns out, walrus is a thick-skinned giant up to 3 meters (10 ft) in length and about a ton (2200 lb) in weight. It is the largest representative of the pinnipeds in the Russian fauna. The most prominent feature of both male and female walruses is two powerful long tusks. Because of the tusks, the species got its compound Odobenus, which comes from odous (Greek for 'tooth') and baino (Greek for 'walk'), based on observations of walruses using their tusks to pull themselves out of the cold ocean water. Apart from that, male walruses use tusks for fighting and making holes in the ice. Tusks play a major role in food procuring.

Walruses have other curious features of their body structure:

  • Esophageal wall of a walrus have certain protrusions up to 50 liters (13 gal.), that can be filled either with air to keep the animal afloat, or with water for easier dives.

  • Walruses are able to stay underwater for up to 10 minutes.

  • The walrus diet includes benthic univalve and bivalve mollusks, segmented worms and crustaceans.

  • Walruses are sociable and stay in groups. When resting, they choose several “guards” who warn the rest of the haulout of danger with a loud bellow.

  • On average, a female walrus gives birth once every two-three years. Walruses give birth on an ice float.

  • Walrus lifespan in the wild reaches 45 years

Researchers recognize three walrus subspecies: the Pacific walrus (affecting the Chukchee Sea, the East Siberian Sea and the Barents Sea), the isolated and understudied Laptev walrus and the Atlantic walrus, affecting the Arctic between Canada and the Kara Sea. Unlike its Pacific relative, the Atlantic walrus is listed in the Red book of threatened species and is classified as Category 2 (decreasing). As of now, the researchers estimate the numbers of the Atlantic walruses to reach 20 000 species; about a half of them are affecting the Russian Arctic sector. As the Arctic industrial development is gaining momentum, the pinnipeds, almost completely exterminated because of uncontrolled harvesting by the early 20th century, are to face new challenges: the northern seas natural resources development, exploration of offshore and onshore fields, oil spill risks and the loss of the Arctic ice due to climate changes. Under the circumstances, the researchers reversed their attention to walruses affecting the area.

Varvara Semyonova, the expedition participant and project coordinator at the MMC: “We have been tracking the walruses on Vaygach Island for three seasons in a row. The results indicate that the walruses inhabit a moderate-sized territory between Novaya Zemlya and Vaygach Island as well as the islands of the Nenetsky state natural reserve. We should consider it when developing the region, particularly during prospecting, extraction and shipping hydrocarbons.

To tag an animal (to install a harpoon with a satellite transmitter on it) or to take biopsy, one has to crawl carefully to a chosen walrus. To take biopsy (a small tissue of skin), a researcher fires a special crossbow bolt. The device is transmitting when the animal is ashore. A transmitter lifespan is up to five months."

 

Atlantic Walrus Range and Habitat Research.

Summer 2015

POLAR EXPEDITION

KARTESH

Логотип проекта "Полярная экспедиция "Картеш"