Scientists in northern Russia have uncovered a huge walrus herd on the shores of the Kara Sea where their habitat is under threat from shrinking ice and human activity.
Walrus ‘haulout’ – a place of refuge where walruses congregate, reproduce, and socialise. This haulout is located in a remote corner of Russia’s Yamal peninsula, and scientists say they counted over 3,000 animals there last month.
Walrus haulouts have traditionally been located on drifting sea ice or on Arctic islands, scientists say. But warmer climate cycles mean sea ice is shrinking and habitats are under threat from oil and gas exploration and more Arctic shipping.
“This haulout is unique because there are both female and male walruses, as well as calves of different age,” said Aleksander Sokolov, a senior Arctic researcher at Russia’s Academy of Sciences who called the find a “unique open-air laboratory”.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the species as “nearly threatened” in 2016, estimating the total number of adult Atlantic walruses in the world at 12,500.
Before commercial hunting of them was banned internationally in the middle of the 20th century, their numbers were threatened by overharvesting for their blubber and ivory.
The haulout which was first discovered last year but only properly documented last month.
Scientists have taken DNA samples and fitted several walruses with satellite tags to monitor their movements for up to several months.
In recent years, loss of summer sea ice over the continental shelf has forced many walruses to travel to the Arctic coasts of the US and Russia where they congregate on shore to rest.