What the Pribilofs are to the fur seal, Round Island in northern Bristol Bay is to the Pacific walrus. Except here, it’s a boys-only beach club; the females and babies remain in the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas, where they feed at the relatively shallow bottoms. Thousands of these giant 3,000-pound bulls cram themselves onto narrow beaches at the bottom of steep cliffs around the 1- by 2-mile island.
It’s an amazing sight, with the scrappy bulls ready to fight at the slightest affront; most of them are scarred from a multitude of old attacks, and broken or missing tusks are common. On the beach, walrus are ungainly, akin to Subaru-sized slugs. But in the water, these big fatties are slo-mo smooth.
As with other marine mammals in the Bering Sea, walrus populations have declined in recent years, though they have not suffered the precipitous declines of Steller sea lions and otters. There is, however, evidence that global warming is starting to impact walrus. The animals haul out onto sea ice to rest, but as the ice retreats, walrus have been forced to gather along the shore, limiting how far they can go for food and affecting the survival of young.
Learn more about these fascinating animals at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website (http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/mmm).
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition