More than seven thousand Atlantic walruses were found during monitoring of territories on the northwestern border of the Russian Arctic. This is twice as much as last year.
This was reported by the participants of the just completed scientific expedition, during which scientists examined 34 islands of the Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya archipelagoes, as well as Victoria Island. With the help of unmanned aerial vehicles, a census of the number of walruses was carried out at the largest haulouts. The largest walrus habitat in the history of Arctic exploration was found on Eva-Liv Island of the Franz Josef Land archipelago.
Zoologists from A.N.Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Lomonosov Moscow State University Marine Research Center, with the support of the staff of the “Russian Arctic” National Park, have been monitoring this area for two years in a row. The expedition was initiated by the Arctic Science Center of "Rosneft" PJSC.
The scientists have installed 16 satellite tracking tags for walruses. This year, special attention was focused on females and young animals. Having studied the data of camera traps installed a year ago, zoologists have discovered new feeding areas and habitats for walruses.
The specialists of the “Russian Arctic” National Park also worked on the Greater Oranskie Islands, where another record-breaking habitation of walruses was recorded with the help of an unmanned aerial vehicle – two thousand heads.
What has caused the population of these animals to reach record numbers? Could the hot summer and general climate change be the reason.
Ivan Mizin, deputy scientific director at the “Russian Arctic” National Park, believes that it could only be partially connected:
“We can't talk about some kind of anomaly. It's just that, apparently, we observed that natural life cycle of walruses in the haulout, when they showed us, perhaps, their maximum number. Walruses have quite distinct rhythms of life in haulouts – daily, weekly and monthly. We can see 10 walruses at the haulout, because most of them go to feed at this time. And coming here at another time, we will see 10 times more walruses. Scientists, so far, are only discovering the peaks of this periodicity for Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya. In any case, the very fact of finding such a number of Atlantic walruses is a significant success for scientists. But it is the result of closer scrutiny. By extending the time of observing the animals, we were able to catch the peak value of their numbers at the haulouts.”
Ivan Mizin draws attention to the fact that if you look at the background of recent years, scientists still noted the growth of the number of Atlantic walruses in the “Russian Arctic” National Park from year to year. In the latest edition of the Red Data Book of the Arkhangelsk Region, the Atlantic walrus is no longer a critically endangered species, its current status is "a species in recovery".
Meanwhile, at Cape Zhelaniya (southern cluster of the “Russian Arctic” National Park), work continued on monitoring the polar bear. Four animals were examined using the remote immobilization method. Two females are now wearing satellite collars that will allow scientists to track the migration paths of bears.
Ivan Mizin said that thanks to the camera traps installed a year ago, scientists had received rare footage of polar bears tracking and hunting walruses. During the expedition, the scientists recorded the presence of rare species in the southern cluster of the protected area, in particular, the white-billed diver. The species is listed in the Red Book of the Arkhangelsk Region.
“For two years, we have been able to conduct large complex expeditions that bring data on the life of marine mammals inhabiting the protected area. We finally learned about all the walrus haulouts that are in "Russian Arctic", and about the state of the animals themselves,” commented the director of the “Russian Arctic” National Park Alexander Kirilov.