Scientists meeting Savoonga and Gambell walrus hunters

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A team of biologists left for Saint Lawrence Island on Wednesday to consult with local walrus hunters in Savoonga and Gambell.

Jim MacCracken heads the Alaska program for marine mammals management with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. He says biologists are eager to collect traditional knowledge from hunters and community members.

“One thing we’ve been thinking of is just basic walrus behavior and how they might adapt to changing habitat conditions, changing climates and things like that,” he said.

Some of that information will help the group as they develop an assessment of the Pacific walrus population as part of a process outlined under the Endangered Species Act.  Biologists need to develop a schedule for required government-to-government consultation, because there’s a possibility Pacific walrus could be listed as endangered, MacCracken said.

The team will also solicit advice from Saint Lawrence Island residents, he said.

“We’re trying to develop an oil spill response plan in case there was a spill out there so some things that they can help us out with, is in terms of walrus behavior, if we might want to try and move animals away from an approaching oil slick about how best to do that and if it’s even feasible.”]

MacCracken says this week’s visit is routine.

“Every year, about this time of the year before the spring hunts starts, we go meet with hunters out there and other people in the village and just exchange information.”

He says biologists will also present new findings from ongoing research. MacCracken says any new information they collect during their visit will also be used in future research. The group will be on Saint Lawrence Island until Friday.

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