Research on walrus populations in Greenland is ongoing, focusing on stock identification, walrus behaviour and population trends. Prominent in these research efforts has been the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources.
To study walrus behaviour and movements, a total of 35 walruses were fitted with satellite-linked transmitters in Smith Sound, Northwest Greenland, between 2010 and 2013 (NAMMCO 2013b). Tagging occurred in spring to coincide with aerial surveys, when the walruses are in Greenland. The last tags were put out in June 2013, and the analyses are still pending.
Aerial surveys were conducted off West Greenland in the springs of 2006, 2008 and 2012 (Heide-Jørgensen et al. 2013) and in the North Water in May of 2009 and 2010 (Heide-Jørgensen et al. 2012). A further survey of walruses on the ice edge in the North Water was planned for April 2014 (NAMMCO 2013a).
Walrus are cooperative in some areas! Researchers fitting satellite tags and taking biological samples in Svalbard.
Fitting a satellite tag to a walrus' tusk.
Photos: K. Kovacs and C. Lydersen/ Norwegian Polar Institute
Research on the walrus population on Svalbard is ongoing. Future plans include aerial surveys at 5 year intervals of the Svalbard fraction of the Svalbard-Franz Josef Land population to monitor abundance trends. A synoptic aerial survey of the whole population including the Russian territories has high priority and has been planned, but for various reasons it has not yet been possible to conduct this work (Lydersen and Kovacs 2013). Prominent in these research efforts has been the Norwegian Polar Institute.
Walrus with a satellite tag on it's tusk. Photos: K. Kovacs and C. Lydersen/ Norwegian Polar Institute
Walrus haul-out sites are being monitored by digital camera during the period late June- early October to study haul-out behaviour and the potential impact of visiting tourists to these sites (NAMMCO 2013a). It is hoped to continue this surveillance in order to get long enough time trends and large enough sample sizes to effectively monitor the status of the population (Lydersen and Kovacs 2013).
Research is also investigating the stock structure of Svalbard walruses. Currently, the genetic relationship between walruses in the Pechora and Kara Seas and those in the Svalbard-Franz Josef Land area is unknown. Material is currently being collected to address this issue (Lydersen and Kovacs 2013).
In relation to climate change issues, plans exist to track animals over multiple years in order to study individual responses to changes in ice conditions. To do this, a new tusk-mounted GPS tag is being developed, powered by solar cells. Possible future dietary shifts, due to climate change induced changes in the marine ecosystem, will also be assessed via analysis of walrus tissue for stable isotopes and fatty acids at regular intervals (Lydersen and Kovacs 2013).