Key habitats and movement patterns of Pechora Sea walruses studied using satellite telemetry

Abstract

The Pechora Sea in the western Russian Arctic is inhabited by Atlantic walrus (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus). Until recently, walruses in this region remained the least-studied stock within the Atlantic subspecies. This benthic feeding pinniped requires careful management in this area because of the rapid industrial development that has taken place in the last decade in the region. In this study, 35 adult male Atlantic walruses were tagged with platform terminal transmitters (PTTs) on the western coast of Vaygach Island in the Pechora Sea in July–August 2012–2017. For the 30 PTTs that functioned, the average duration of the tracking records was 47 ± SE 6 days (maximum: 155 days). Most of the tagged animals (83%) stayed in the eastern part of the Pechora Sea between Pechora Bay, the southern tip of Novaya Zemlya and the western coast of Vaygach Island. The identified core range (4000 km2) was located between Vaygach Island and Matveev and Dolgiy islands; including a series of coastal haul-outs and a marine area which is likely an important feeding ground. Five of the tagged walruses left the Pechora Sea and moved to areas up to 1500 km away (maximum 2115 km by track distance) from the tagging location, including the northern part of Novaya Zemlya, the central Kara Sea and the northern part of the Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago. This is the first evidence that walruses from the southeastern Barents Sea occupy the Kara Sea. Eight terrestrial haul-outs in the Kara Sea were identified.

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Acknowledgements

A number of Companies operating in the Pechora Sea, as well as the Norwegian Polar Institute and WWF Russia financed different components of the field programme. The Norwegian-Russian Environmental Commission facilitated the study of walruses in the Barents Sea. The authors thank Miroslav Babushkin, Vladislav Svetochev and Vladimir Kipriyanov for considerable contributions to the field programme, and the residents of the Varnek settlement, particularly Mikhail Vylko for the help on fulfilling field studies on Vaygach Island. The authors are grateful to the staff of Nenetskiy State Nature Reserve and Kartesh RV for logistical help and to Ltd Es-Pas company for their open-minded approach to the development of the transmitters used in this stidy. Critical remarks and valuable advice of the Guest Editor of the Special Issue Alexey Sukhotin, reviewers Prof. Kit Kovacs, Prof. Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen and Senior scientist Erik W. Born are gratefully acknowledged.

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This article belongs to the special issue on the "Ecology of the Pechora Sea", coordinated by Alexey A. Sukhotin.

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Semenova, V., Boltunov, A. & Nikiforov, V. Key habitats and movement patterns of Pechora Sea walruses studied using satellite telemetry. Polar Biol 42, 1763–1774 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-018-02451-7

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Keywords

  • Argos
  • Atlantic walrus
  • Conservation
  • Oil development
  • Satellite tracking
  • SE Barents Sea
  • Kara Sea
  • Tagging
  • Terrestrial haul-outs