Preliminary figures show dismal walrus harvest from poor weather

Pacific walrus. (Photo by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association)

Pacific walrus. (Photo by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association)

For the second year in a row, the number of walrus harvested for subsistence on St. Lawrence Island is far below normal.

“It’s about half of what the average take has been over the last 10 years or so,” said Jim MacKracken, who supervises the walrus program for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which tracks population numbers based on strikes and successful harvests hunters report back.

Though some hunters are still boating as far as 70 miles north to the retreating ice edge, the majority of walrus pods are now past the island, and the preliminary harvest figures are low.

“The total for both Gambell and Savoonga so far is about 345 animals,” MacKracken said. “But we still are getting a few certificates back in, and I hear that people are picking up a walrus here and then. And as they migrate back South in the fall they may get a few, also.”

That’s split about evenly between the two communities, 176 in Gambell and 169 in Savoonga.

Based on what MacKracken has heard from hunters, the cause of the poor harvest is the same as last year.

“Generally it’s weather and ice conditions. You know the winds weren’t blowing quite right and the ice was packed in along the shore. A lot of the days the wind was blowing pretty hard so the sea was pretty rough and the fetch was high. It’s hard to get a boat out and go hunting in that kinda condition. Then of course a lot of times it’s foggy and it’s hard to hunt in the fog, ‘cause you can’t see where you’re going or see the animals,” MacKracken explained.

Walrus are the staple subsistence source on the island, and an essential economic and cultural resource. Last year the state declared an economic disaster because of the record low harvest.

Recent headlines

  • Computer problems for some - extended coffee break for others: Some employees of the Dept. of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, Financial Services Division in the State Office Building in Juneau drink coffee near their disabled computers March 22, 2017. The workers, who chose to not be identified, said that some computers were working while others were not as a result of a statewide technical problem within the state's system. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

    Software update locks thousands of state workers out of computers

    Roughly 6,000 state workers were unable to log in to their computers, affecting two in five executive branch workers.
  • The top of the Raven Shark totem pole lies in Totem Hall at Sitka National Historical Park. (Photo by Emily Russell/KCAW)

    After 30 years, Raven Shark pole back in Sitka

    The totem pole is an icon of the Pacific Northwest. The carved art form showcases clan stories and family crests in museums around the world. After more than 30 years in the Anchorage Museum, a century-old pole from Southeast has made it back to Sitka, where curators are prepping a permanent home.
  • Longtime leader Rosita Worl to leave Sealaska board

    One of the Sealaska regional Native corporation’s longest-serving leaders is stepping down. Rosita Worl says she will not run for another term after 30 years on the board.
  • U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks to reporters in one of the Senate’s more ornate rooms. (Photo by Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

    Murkowski at odds with Trump’s call to end NEA funding

    President Donald Trump’s budget outline calls for eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA has been a frequent target of Republicans, but U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski supports the endowment, and Tuesday she won the 2017 Congressional Arts Leadership Award.
X