Atlantic walrus risks extinction, says committee advising federal minister

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Walruses lounge on sea ice between Iglulik and Hall Beach in October 2014.
photo courtesy of Jay Williams

Nunavut – According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), which advises the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Atlantic walrus is at risk of extinction.

The news was released May 1, after the organization’s April meeting.

“The walrus is a most unusual and distinctive mammal of the northern seas. Walruses have been very important to the Inuit, both as food and in their culture, and they remain so today. Walruses are particularly sensitive to disturbance, and certainly deserve special attention,” stated marine mammal expert and COSEWIC member Hal Whitehead in the news release.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has begun preparations for public consultations relating to the possible addition of the Arctic populations of walrus to the Species At Risk Act, stated the department’s communications advisor for the Central and Arctic Region Hilary Prince via e-mail.

“Under the current regulations, an individual Inuk may harvest up to four walrus in a year, except where community quotas exist,” said Prince.
Current quotas are: 60 for Coral Harbour, 20 for Clyde River, 10 for Arctic Bay, and 10 for Sanikiluaq.

DFO, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board (NWMB), regional wildlife organizations and hunters’ and trappers’ organizations co-manage the walrus fishery.

“An integrated fisheries management plan (IFMP) for Atlantic walrus in the NSA (Nunavut Settlement Area) was developed cooperatively by Nunavut co-management organizations and was approved by the NWMB and the Minister of DFO in 2016,” said Prince.

“The (management plan) identifies the objectives and requirements for the Atlantic walrus fishery in the NSA, and the management measures that will be used to achieve these objectives. It is anticipated that the (management plan) will be formally signed by the NWMB and DFO in the summer/fall of 2017.”

COSEWIC’s assessment report regrouped the Atlantic walrus in Canada into three populations.
“Despite regrouping the populations, COSEWIC has not changed their recommended status of Atlantic walrus in the Canadian Arctic since their 2006 recommended designation of ‘special concern’,” said Prince.

According to COSEWIC, special concern means measures must be taken to address climate change and good management of hunting, disturbance, and development are needed to prevent their status from deteriorating to ‘threatened’.