Conditions allow for a doubling of the walrus population in northern Baffin Bay


A recent scientific article by four authors from Pinngortitaleriffik, among others, indicates that the most important areas for walruses in Qaanaaq and Northeast Canada can carry a doubling of the current walrus population of 2,544 individuals. Furthermore, the article sheds light over the behaviour and migration of the walruses and demonstrates the usefulness of close collaboration between catchers and biologists.

The walrus summering areas in northern Baffin Bay are not as well-known as the wintering areas, where the catch takes place in Greenland. Therefore, the aim of the study was to understand how the walruses use the area they inhabit during summer. This knowledge provides the biologists with a better basis for counting the walruses and give advice on both catch and human use of the area.

The methods and equipment of the study were developed by Greenlandic catchers, industrial designers and biologists in close collaboration. Small satellite-linked transmitters were attached to harpoon heads and then instrumented onto the walruses by the catchers from Qaanaaq using traditional hand harpoons. In the period from 2010 to 2013, 27 walruses were marked using this method.

The transmitters sent information about the walruses’ movement and diving behaviour to the scientists, who compared the information with the area’s sea depths and amounts of shellfish on which the walruses feed. Data indicate that Alexandra Fjord and Princess Mary Bay in Northeast Canada are important foraging areas for the walruses during the summer period. The Carey Islands in Northwest Greenland are a potentially important summering area for walruses on their way to Canada from Greenland in the month of June. Analyses of walruses’ stomach content and the distribution of the mussels, on which the walrus mainly feed, may further help identify the most important foraging areas for walruses during the summer. 

Most often, the walruses dived to depths where their preferred food items, such as mussels, live (10-100 m). The scientists registered four dives to depths over 500 metres, which are the deepest dives ever documented for a walrus. The walruses dived with an average speed from 1.0 to 1.8 metres per second.

The analyses of the size of the walruses’ shallow water foraging areas between Qaanaaq and Ellesmere Island as well as the current and historical population sizes indicate that the area may carry 5,000 walruses. This means that if the population is continuously managed with the purpose of letting it grow over time, the present amount of food resources may allow it to almost double.

The study was published January 2018 in the reputed Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology with the title: “Diving behavior of the Atlantic walrus in high Arctic Greenland and Canada”. Four of the seven authors are employees at Pinngortitaleriffik (main author Eva Garde along with Rikke G. Hansen, Karl B Zinglersen and Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen).

For further information, please contact Eva Garde (phone +45 3283 3825, e-mail or Fernando Ugarte (phone +299 361200, e-mail

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The methods and equipment used in the study were developed in close collaboration among Greenlandic catchers, industrial designers and biologists. Photo: Fernando Ugarte.

Walrus with satellite transmitter attached to its back. Photo: Fernando Ugarte.

Small satellite-linked transmitters were attached to harpoon heads and then instrumented onto the walruses by the catchers from Qaanaaq using traditional hand harpoons. Photo: Carsten Egevang.