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Walrus radio-tracking in the Chukchi Sea 2014

Final 2014 Pacific Walrus tracking map

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Walrus Data: USGS researchers deployed satellite radio-tags on Pacific walruses in the northeastern Chukchi Sea (July 15-16, 2014 n = 35) and on the shores near the community of Point Lay, Alaska (Sep 16-19, n=37) to track their activity and movements during the upcoming sea ice minimum period.

Sea Ice Data:  Sea ice distribution shown here is based daily analysis from the National Ice Center (NIC) daily marginal ice zone product, which incorporates on multiple sensors and active ice analysis (http://www.natice.noaa.gov/products/). A daily emailing of these sea ice data for this study area is available formatted for display on virtual globes (such as 'Google Earth') upon request.

Project Purpose:  The retreat of sea ice beyond the continental shelf in the past seven years represents a step change in the summer habitat for the Pacific walrus and our observations of their behavior under these conditions of extreme summer ice minimums is providing a glimpse into their potential response to future summertime sea ice loss. The loss of summer sea ice in the Chukchi Sea is also increasing opportunities for human activities in the Arctic, such as shipping and oil and gas activities. During the same cruise, USGS is collaborating with acoustic scientists to measure and characterize walrus call types and background ocean noise in the Chukchi Sea environment to address questions related to the effects of anthropogenic ocean noise on walrus behaviors. Information from walrus tracking and acoustic studies have be identified as high priority needs by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USGS DOI partners) for mitigating the impacts of human activities on walruses and issuing incidental takes under the National Environmental Policy and Marine Mammal Protection Acts.

For the past several years, the USGS has conducted similar work under the USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems (CAE) Initiative to track and forecast response of walruses to dramatic reductions in summer sea ice. Under this research initiative, USGS has documented movement patterns and foraging behaviors of more than 400 walruses to reveal important summering habitats that coincide with areas leased by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for oil and gas development.  USGS estimated monthly distributions from this tracking data and has made them available to support management needs (For example see Arctic ERMA).  Financial support for data collection in 2014 was provided by the USGS CAE Initiative, and the BOEM Outer Continental Shelf program.

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