The walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) is a large marine mammal that is found in the Bering, Chukchi, and Laptev Seas and in the coastal regions of northeastern Canada and Greenland.
Thanks to its great size, the walrus has only two natural predators - the orca (or killer whale) and the polar bear. Traditionally, indigenous peoples living in coastal walrus habitat have depended on these animals for food, tools, clothing, and other uses, using every part of a walrus in their daily lives. Traditional marine-mammal hunting is still practiced at a subsistence level today.
The biggest threat facing walruses today is climate change. Steady loss of sea ice changes conditions for these animals and has negative consequences for the population overall. Combined with the loss of snow pack, thinning and retreating sea ice reduces essential walrus habitat and forces walruses to devote more energy to locate ever sparser prey - resulting in long, exhausting swims for walrus mothers, and more time leaving calves unattended. Recently, walruses have been forced to relocate haul-outs to coastal areas due to melting pack ice. Forced to stick to coastal areas because of too-distant pack ice, thousands of walruses face food deficits that can result in malnutrition and death. Scientists believe that such was the case in 2007 when 4,000-10,000 walruses died from malnutrition and stampedes at overcrowded haul-outs.
Pacific Environment supports the Association of Traditional Marine Mammal Hunters of Chukotka (ATMMHC) and local indigenous community members to collect scientific data on walrus haul-outs (population distribution, age, gender, mortality, etc.) and external impacts to the population - both natural and anthropogenic. The data is used to predict future population trends related to climate change and to develop recommendations for population management and key walrus habitat protection. Employing indigenous Chukchi and other locals is important as it both provides local employment and encourages age-old traditional connections to the coastal landscape.