Assessing site-use and sources of disturbance at walrus haul-outs using monitoring cameras
The rapid growth of tourism in Polar Regions stimulates a need for investigating potential impacts on targeted species and sensitive areas. This study examines effects of tourist visitations on haul-out dynamics and site use by walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) in Svalbard, Norway. Automated camera stations were established at five traditional haul-out sites that experience variable levels of tourist visitation. The cameras took one photograph each hour, throughout June–November from 2007 to 2015 (3 sites) and 2010–2015 (2 additional sites). A total of 66,365 images were analysed. The approximate number of walruses on shore, and % sea-ice cover was estimated for each image; additionally, the presence/absence of tourists, boats and polar bears (Ursus maritimus) were recorded. A log-linear regression model was run on residuals from an ARIMA model, fitted to each season of counts from each site. Use of the terrestrial haul-out sites was sometimes restricted by sea-ice cover, but walruses were also absent (or present rarely) at some sites, despite a lack of sea ice. Tourists on land and boats near the haul-out sites (with a single exception) did not disturb walrus haul-out behaviour significantly (p > 0.05) at any of the sites. In addition, most polar bear visits were not associated with detectable disturbances. However, polar bears did significantly disturb walrus herds at Andréetangen (p = 0.003) and Storøya (p = 0.002) in some years. These disturbances were likely associated with predation attempts on calves.
KeywordsArctic Behaviour Polar bears Predation Sea ice Svalbard Tourism
This study was financed by the Norwegian Polar Institute. We thank everyone who has contributed to maintaining the camera stations, including Jon Aars, Jens Abild, Vidar Bakken, Kristen Fossan, Rupert Krapp, Anders Skoglund, Harald Steen and Hallvard Strøm. We are also grateful for the valuable contributions made to the study by the Governor’s Office in Svalbard who provided the tourist records and post-visitation site data.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors of this research have no conflict of interests.
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