The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) are currently investigating 25 walrus deaths, which occurred in northwest Alaska.
The corpses were discovered by an employee of the Air Force radar station on the Chukchi sea coast, in Cape Lisburne. Agency officials received a report regarding the incident and a series of photographs from the crime scene.
12 walrus pups and 13 adults had died in the remote area, located approximately 230 miles northeast of the Bering Strait. It has been speculated that the marine animals were killed by poachers, who shot and decapitated them in order to harvest their ivory tusks.
Although photographs taken at the place of the incident seem to confirm these reports, authorities haven’t issued an official announcement as to the animals’ cause of death.
A criminal investigation is currently underway, in order to determine the culprits. A team of experts from the law enforcement division was sent to the remote beach, and officials are being helped by the Eskimo Walrus Commission to assess the situation.
There has been a delay in the initial arrival in Cape Lisburne, due to unfavorable weather conditions, so the investigators are working against the clock to complete the inquest.
“Time is of the essence in a case like this […] because you have animals that can feed on these carcasses and crime scenes can be damaged by natural feeding”, explained Andrea Medeiros, spokesperson for FWS.
It has been announced that additional information related to the case will be provided by the U.S. Attorney’s office, in due course.
According to experts, Pacific walruses began being commercially exploited in the 18th century, and their numbers have dwindled, reaching around 50,000-100,000 in the mid-1950’s.
Despite conservation measures meant to allow the marine mammals to recover, their population has been declining and now this downward trend is a source of great concern.
Based on current regulations, native hunters in Alaska are allowed to kill the walruses, but only as a food source, for subsistence purposes or for creating handicraft. Once a walrus is killed it must be used for its meat, skin or oil. Wasting an animal that has been hunted is considered illegal under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Nevertheless, there is still a high demand for carved walrus ivory, known as “scrimshaw”, which can be sold on the black market for more than $300 per pair. Collectors use tusks as trophies or jewelry, and these prized possessions are obtained from “headhunters” who trade their catches in return for money and drugs.
Global warming may also contribute to the animals’ plummeting numbers, because it forces the animals to swim up north. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice covers just 1.7 million square miles now, its surface having been reduced by 240,000 square miles since 2014.
Image Source: BBryson