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Keywords:

  • Odobenus rosmarus;
  • walrus;
  • aerial censuses;
  • Chukchi Sea

Abstract

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a survey of the walruses in the pack ice of the Chukchi Sea between 16 September and 2 October 1985, as part of a joint effort with the Soviet Union to estimate the size of the Pacific walrus population. American observers conducted censuses from two aircraft along randomly selected north–south lines over the pack ice. The observers counted walruses within a constant viewing angle that corresponded to a total strip width of 1.38 km at an altitude of 152 m.

In nine days of flying, 15,312 walruses were observed, of which 10,140 were on 5,764 km2 of census strips. Few walruses were observed east of 161°W longitude or west of 170°W longitude, hence the census effort was stratified. Walrus concentrations between 161° and 170° shifted slightly westward during the 2-wk duration of the censuses. The differences among days in observed walrus density were due to changes in the numbers of walruses on the ice within 37 km of the ice edge. The number of observable walruses in pack ice of the eastern Chukchi Sea was estimated to be 62,177 (SD = 19,480), based on censuses conducted on 29 and 30 September and 1 October. At that time there were also at least 15,238 in Bristol Bay, Bering Sea. The Soviets counted 39,572 on the shores of the western Chukchi and Bering seas and estimated 115,531 in pack ice of the western Chukchi Sea. Summing U.S. and Soviet estimates, the total population of Pacific walruses in 1985 was 232,518. This number was comparable with earlier estimates from censuses conducted jointly by the U.S. and the Soviets. However, information on fraction hauled out, segregation, and movements is needed for more precise estimates.