Environmental Policy News

Feds: No Artificial Rafts for Hauled-Out Walrus

When some 35,000 walrus were spotted near the village of Point Lay, Alaska in early September 2015, many blamed the exodus on diminishing sea ice cover.


Moreover, scientists claimed the huge onshore crowds were a new phenomenon. According to Chadwick Jay, a research ecologist heading the US Geological Survey’s walrus program, the coastal haul outs have only occurred in our lifetimes. The reason, he says is that in the past, walrus found enough floating sea ice off Alaska’s coast to stay offshore and feed rom these bases. However, since 2007, the walruses have gathered annually onshore in northwester Alaska. Jay says this is because the animals, “have run out of sea ice and have no pale to go.”

In response, according to the Alaska Dispatch News, “This summer, former University of Alaska professor and environmental activist Rick Steiner proposed a pilot project to test the effects of anchoring temporary artificial rafts for walruses at Hanna Shoal beginning in 2016. His plan was to design/retrofit at least one large barge (e.g. a cleaned fuel barge), with a substantial weather bow, retrofit it with appropriate surfacing material, ballast it with sea water, anchor it at Hanna Shoal from July – October 2016, to test the feasibility of the concept.”

The rafts, hypothesized Steiner, could “help mitigate the devastating impact of climate change in Arcitc Ocean ecosystems.”

So far, the US Geological Survey has not taken up the idea. Instead, they are focusing on “minimizing disturbances at coastal haulouts.” In a letter to Steiner, Fish and Wildlife Alaska Regional Director Geoffrey L. Haskett wrote, “Currently, there is no evidence that feeding trips from coastal haulouts are resulting in an energy deficit based on observations of animal conditions.”

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