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Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens):
Differential prey digestion and diet


Current address: Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation, Pouch 1148, Nome, Alaska 99762, U.S.A.


Stomach content data from 798 Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) collected during 1952–1991 were analyzed using a method that evaluates the stage of digestion of prey remains. Non-molluscan prey taxa were not well represented in previous interpretations of walrus diet due to digestion biases. Stomach contents least affected by digestion (fresh stomachs) contained more prey taxa than stomachs of an unknown or more digested state. Bivalves, gastropods, and polychaete worms were the most frequent prey items in both the Bering and Chukchi seas, although bivalves occurred more frequently in stomachs from the Bering Sea and gastropods occurred more frequently in stomachs from the Chukchi Sea. Male and female walruses consumed essentially the same prey when in the same location. Using only fresh stomachs collected between 1975 and 1985, there was no significant difference between the proportion that contained mostly bivalves and the proportion that contained non-bivalve prey items. Earlier interpretations of a change in walrus diet in this period compared to the prior two decades may have been due to digestion as well as sampling biases. Current climatic changes may affect walrus's access to diverse, productive shallow water feeding areas.