We always feel really lucky to spend our summers at our fish camp in Western Alaska. One of the most amazing features of Bristol Bay (in addition to the world’s largest sockeye salmon run, lots of brown/grizzly bears and huge herds of caribou) are the walrus (Odobenus rosmarus). Most folks know the word “walrus” but few people can create a clear picture in their mind’s eye of what this strange sub-arctic marine creature actually looks like.
In Bristol Bay we are fortune to have most of the walrus “haulouts” (beaches and rocks where walrus get out of the water) in Alaska. Round Island near Togiak is a major haulout with some 14,000 walrus counted on its shores in one day. The others are Capes Peirce and Newenham (in the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge), and Seniavin (near Port Moller) also in or near Bristol Bay. As the winter pack ice recedes out of Bristol Bay in the spring, male walrus move into these areas to bask in the sun between feeding excursions. When we fly into fishcamp in small planes we often follow the beaches, sometimes for safety in fog and sometimes looking for beach treasures and walrus.
Hundreds of miles of black sand beach slip by under the plane as we fly into fish camp––this is the north side of Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands stretching away from Alaska and 2,200 miles all the way to Russia. The black silky texture of the sand met by the mossy green of the tundra and confronted by the angry grey/blue of the Bering sea combine here to form the perfect backdrop on which to see the gleaming white ivory tusks and hulking tan bodies of sunning walrus.
- Walrus skin is almost an inch thick.
- Walrus can weigh up to 2,000 lbs. and be 12 feet long.
- Walrus use their tusks for fighting (males) and for excavating mollusks (clams) and other creatures from the seabed.
- Although protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, a few thousand walrus are hunted in Alaska and Russia by Native peoples.
- Walrus meat, blubber and skin are used by western and northern native peoples now as they have for thousands of years. The skin can be used to cover boats and the stomach lining is used to make traditional drums.
- Want to see walrus in real life? Visit the seven islands of the Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary (WISGS) in our lovely Bristol Bay between May 1 and August 15 with a permit from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. And bring your tent, you’ll be camping! Click here for more info