Environmental News

Walrus Deaths In Alaska Spark Federal Investigation

It was a grisly scene to stumble upon.

Twenty-five walruses corpses were discovered on the shores of Cape Lisburne, a remote coastal area in far northwestern Alaska.

Some of the animals were beheaded, others were found missing their tusks.  Of the twenty-five, thirteen were adults and twelve were just calves.

Authorities are investigating the issue to try and determine the cause of death.

CNN reports that killing a walrus in Alaska is not necessarily illegal.  Alaskan natives are allowed to hunt the animals when the intention is for survival purposes such as obtaining food or harvesting hides.  Pacific walruses are also not classified as endangered.

However, a mass slaughter of the animals, for what is now believed by some to be the ivory in their tusks, is another story.

Like elephant tusks, the ivory found in walrus tusks is considered of high value in underground circles.  A pound of ivory is worth approximately $1,500, while the tusks of a fully grown walrus can extend as much as three feet and weigh up to twelve pounds.

However, walrus calves don’t have tusks, which raises more questions about the motive of the poachers — if poaching is even what happened.

Andrea Medeioros, a spokeswoman from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, stated that while it may appear to be a case of poaching, they are not ruling out other situations. “You know, people can take the heads if they find a dead walrus on the beach,” she said.

We can’t say with any certainty what for one the cause of death here was. You know, these animals, from the photos, do appear to have their heads taken off, but we can’t make any assumptions that that’s why they were killed, if they were in fact killed. You know, people can take the heads if they find a dead walrus on the beach.

Some are hoping that this alternative ends up being the case.

Walruses are known to gather in herds on the beach and are generally docile and curious.  However, when threatened, it is in their nature to quickly seek escape into the water in the form of a stampede.  In this situation, sometimes the animals can trample each other, especially their young.

If the walruses were indeed found dead, it is not illegal for non-natives to harvest the ivory off the corpses.  It is, however, still against the law to make a profit from the ivory.

According to The Washington Post, a similar incident occurred in 2007 when dozens of beheaded walruses washed up along the shores of Alaska.

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