FAIL: USGS report on history of walrus haulouts leaves out correlation with population size

Dr. Susan Crockford notes:

Walrus researchers from the US Geological Survey have a new report on the history of walrus haulouts in the Chukchi and Bering Seas – yet their media efforts (via press release and interviews) fail to mention the relationship between fluctuating size of walrus haulouts and fluctuating walrus population size that is evident in that history. In fact, overall population size is not mentioned at all.

Walrus 2012 July USGS

Two articles came out over the weekend that announced the results of this new joint US-Russian initiative [PBS, Walrus beaching in Alaska might not be as harmful as it looks. Here’s why – 31 July 2016 and ADN, Alaska and Russia join forces to create 160-year database of walrus haulouts – 31 July 2016]

But neither articles nor the new USGS paper they are touting (Fischback et al. 2016) mention the huge summer/fall haulouts of females, calves, and juveniles that were documented in the 1970s that coincided with the huge population size at that time, which crashed in the 1980s.

Only now has the population grown (to at least 200,000) to the point that huge haulouts are again being reported – conservation has done it’s job. But when walrus numbers get too high the animals out-strip their food source and numbers plummet, as they did in the 1980s (Fay et al. 1989; Garlich-Miller et al. 2011). See my fully referenced summary paper, Crockford 2014 (On The Beach: Walrus Haulouts are Nothing New).

Full post with more details here: https://polarbearscience.com/2016/08/02/usgs-report-on-history-of-walrus-haulouts-leaves-out-correlation-with-population-size/

69 thoughts on “FAIL: USGS report on history of walrus haulouts leaves out correlation with population size

    • Already been done.
      Dr. Crockford:

      When (not if) a population crash happens again, will it be blamed on global warming rather than natural causes?

      Of course it will be blamed on climate change or global warming. There are no other explanations at these times.

      • I didn’t even know that walrus qualified as a species of rock to get geologically surveyed now and then.
        Just because they are big, fat and ugly, is no need to count them like rocks.
        Actually, I personally think the walrus is a way cool animal. They were that way even when I was far to young to even believe they were real. I like their smile.
        G

      • Taphonomic
        I always though tit was San Andreas’ Fault
        [No, the tilt was always the San Andreas’ fault. .mod]

  1. This is in no way meant to criticize Dr. Crockford, but it is simply stunning that the poorly educated CAGW sheep have to be told “…when walrus numbers get too high the animals out-strip their food source and numbers plummet…”.
    How else do animals get fed? Quantitative Easing?

      • Well eventually their canines get too long to close their mouth around so they starve to death.
        It’s a natural cycle that sets an upper limit to the length of a good piece of ivory that you can get your hands on.
        I don’t know if walrus white keys sound any better, or even any different from elephant white keys.
        We need to protect the walrus to keep from running out of good pianos.
        g

      • Nope, Quantitative Bivalve Molluscs, as any youngun brought up on Wally Walrus cartoons would know
        The walrus has a diverse and opportunistic diet, feeding on more than 60 genera of marine organisms, including shrimp, crabs, tube worms, soft corals, tunicates, sea cucumbers, various mollusks, and even parts of other pinnipeds.[46] However, it prefers benthic bivalve mollusks, especially clams, for which it forages by grazing along the sea bottom, searching and identifying prey with its sensitive vibrissae and clearing the murky bottoms with jets of water and active flipper movements

      • “So BioB, how the heck do they pry open those bivalves with such big teeth ??”
        They suck. (seriously)
        The tusks are more for male-male dominance fights, defense, breaking ice, climbing but likely also are used in feeding from time to time.

  2. Thomas Malthus said as much – 200 years ago:
    “That the increase of population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence,”
    and “That population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase”.

    • Applying this to humans, only without preventives, that is. But I wonder how long preventives will work that way? I assume cultural evolution and biological evolution both work against preventives being efficient. There are religious groups that have fertility many times bigger than the general population. In evolutional sense, it is a blink of an eye and the small population decline in many countries is counteracted by growth of some now-freaky groups.

      • “Thomas Malthus said as much – 200 years ago:
        “That the increase of population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence,”
        and “That population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase”.”

        Unfortunately for Malthus, humans (with or without “preventatives”) are just about the only animal species where this principle is almost exactly backwards, as any specialist in demographics can (but probably won’t) tell you. (cf. 20th century Brazil) As such, the aptly-named “Malthusian” prophesies of doom & gloom via a so-called “population bomb” to date have proven false.

      • Thanks, RC!
        It’s a bit leftover from when I was a kid living in central & southern CA. “Only YOU can prevent Forest Fires,” said my stuffed bear with the trousers & hat, lugubrious voice & somber eyes.
        Ever since then, when I hear about a “wildfire raging out of control, threatening millions and expanding at unprecedented rates…!!!1!1” Well, I just think, “Huh. Must be summer.” ^_^

  3. I guess I missed the point of the Crockford paper. Is its purpose to document the amount of walrus that can be harvested if a market can be found? Is it to estimate the amount of walrus ivory that can be used to make scrimshaw? Is it to promote government programs to limit walrus population when it is too large and feed them when the population is too small? Or is it to try to figure out why the walrus populations decline when they run out of food? [I already know the answer to the last question!]

    • If you read carefully, you will find that they have, in fact, announced that they have developed the technology for time travel.

      Due to extensive hunting during the 19th and 29th centuries, walrus populations declined severely. Once they were protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, their populations have been able to rebound somewhat.

      • Oh this is interesting.
        I just wonder how do they even know the historical population size of Pacific walruses, when Speckman et al 2010 came up with 2006 population size of 129,000 (95% CI 55,000 – 507,000). So the uncertainty was ten-fold at this millennium. Previous papers didn’t try to give confidence interval.
        But I take it as given, the populations have “somewhat” rebound.
        Garlich-Miller, Joel, et al. “Status review of the Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens).” US Fish and Wildlife Service (2011).

      • Dr. Crockford stated that there was a population boom after the 1972 conservation effort, resulting in a population crash in the 1980 due to insufficient feed. So the statement “their populations have been able to rebound somewhat” is incorrect. In fact (according to Dr. Crockford), the population fully recovered by around 1980, and is now again being regulated by nature.

    • All kidding aside.
      You have to read the linked articles. They are trying to link the health and welfare of the walrus to sea ice. If the sea ice retreats, walrus have to travel farther to go ashore and relax. It’s all about global warming.

      • The USGS report is consistent inside the constructed frame, which specifies a subset of the scientific frame. That they would expand or narrow, as in this case, the frame beyond reason is standard practice with interest-oriented scientific disciplines. Every interest-oriented discipline, really.

      • From a comment above, “The walrus has a diverse and opportunistic diet, feeding on more than 60 genera of marine organisms, including shrimp, crabs, tube worms, soft corals, tunicates, sea cucumbers, various mollusks, and even parts of other pinnipeds.[46] However, it prefers benthic bivalve mollusks, especially clams, for which it forages by grazing along the sea bottom, searching and identifying prey with its sensitive vibrissae and clearing the murky bottoms with jets of water and active flipper movements”
        Clearly, more ice diminishes their food source.

      • Robert
        Its not what they feed on, it is where they feed from…
        If there aren’t ice floes over the shallower water where they feed for them to haul out on, they haul out on land, in a mass…

      • Well why would they need to travel further to go ashore. They live in the water just off the beach, and by the time they are adults, they know which way is deep and which way is shallow, and shallow leads to a beach. After their teeth get long enough, they no longer need to eat ice to keep cool, so why would ocean acidification pH changes be of any concern to them.
        g

  4. If I see thousands of male walrus on a beach, I normally think healthy population and then some kind of sex competition is going on and then some kind of social interaction is also happening. Then I think the polar bears will be there next (and then I think human hunters used to be on the scene pretty rapidly in the historic past).
    It sounds more like a natural thing that happens with walrus. Why would a bunch of male walrus gather together like this. The walrus are not going to tell us, but patterns in the rest of mama nature can tell us this has nothing to do with global warming. It is biology and DNA. The walrus have been there for over 20 million years so I imagine it probably works well enough.

  5. Of course, if there is a huge die off, it will be blamed on …..wait for it….”climate change”….

  6. I was always told not to swim after eating a large meal.
    Seems like they might just be well fed ??

  7. Despite Dr. Crockford’s claim to the contrary even in her paper there is no evidence
    presented that mass haul outs are related to over population. That the population of
    walruses fluctuate is not in doubt nor is the fact that mass haul outs occur. But no-one
    seems to know why. The first step in understanding it would be do compile a list of
    documented haul outs which is what has been done. After all as Sherlock Holmes said
    “you should never theorise in advance of data”. Others can then use this record to
    come up with theories about why.

  8. I’m sorry this just won’t do – there is no mention of varying arctic sea ice levels in relation to haul outs: sea ice is important for walrus populations and they will normally haul out on ice if it is there.
    http://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/walrus/pdfs/The_Science_Behind_the_2015_Walrus_Haul-out_FAQ.pdf
    “Walruses haul out onto the shores of the Chukchi Sea in large numbers when the sea ice recedes north of the continental shelf, usually near the end of summer in August and September. This has occurred during all but two of the recent years, beginning in 2007. During 2008 and 2012, walruses did not come ashore in Alaska, because sparse remnant sea ice persisted over the shelf.”
    Sea ice conditions off northern Alaska have seen the ice edge retreat massively compared to pre-2007 conditions – especially this year and last….
    This gives a balanced expert view of the threats facing walrus and the influences on their populations:
    http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/reportcard/walruses.html

    • We’d really like to see that picture of the mass haul-outs of walrus, on floating sea ice.
      I would think that David Attenborough would get out his Canon camera and take videos of the floating sea ice out-hauls if there were any to be seen anywhere.
      We are ALL familiar with the beach haul-outs; in California, we get them with elephant seals as well at places like Anno Nuevo every year, so it’s a favorite hunting ground for GW sharks.
      G

    • When they haul out on ice, though they associate in ‘herds’, they spread themselves over the floes…
      Only when they haul out on land do they bunch together in a big lumps

  9. ‘ With more walrus hauling out in one location, the dangers of a stampede rise, and as a consequence more young walrus are trampled to death at these mass haulout locations.’
    Sure. The the higher the walrus population, the more of them is endangered.
    Needs to be studied further in sophisticated models.

    • No – when they haul out en masse on land, there’s more danger of stampede and injury… when they haul out on ice floes, this doesn’t happen (they aren’t all in one mass)

  10. Why is the United States Geological Survey studying walrus haul outs anyway. Just a little bit of mission creep….

    • Ok, I’m wondering the same thing. Why isn’t this study under Fish and Wildlife? Doesn’t the USGS have enough to deal with on their own? Why sponsor a study that clearly is under the purview of Fish and Wildlife? Makes no sense….but then….the study makes no sense either..so there you have it.
      [Follow the money. USGS has a bigger budget more loosely controlled than FW – who will want to actually pay for useful fish stories. (Er, studies). .mod]

      • Walrus get big enough to be considered just a new class of rock. So the USGS likes to keep a count of them.
        Some people count sheep instead.
        g

  11. Are walrus replacing polar bears as the sad Arctic icon?
    See this story from yesterday (2 August 2016):
    http://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/baby-walruses-trampled-amid-melting-sea-ice-report-1.3012508
    “Baby walruses trampled amid melting sea ice” citing the just-released NOAA “State of the Climate 2015” report (there is a link to it in this article).
    300 pages – Walrus get a 1 and a half page sidebar but polar bears are not mentioned once (different set of authors for the walrus sidebar than the USGS report released in July).
    And oddly, the work of renowned walrus expert Francis Fay is not cited and no mention is made of the high numbers in the 1970s which Fay attributed to reduced food (because he found many dead walrus that were thin).
    Susan Crockford, zoologist

    • Seems likely this is happening. The polar bear as the symbol of climate change has lost its appeal and people seem to be becoming aware of the fact that there are many, many polar bears. A new icon is needed. I note that they are concerned about “baby walruses”. Adults aren’t appealing to some people, so use a baby. Everyone loves animal babies. Makes a great new icon and a new cause for those who live for causes.

      • Except it isn’t working. The media is buying it but the public isn’t. I’ve noticed that comments under all of the recent reports of “stampeding walruses” (say 2012 on) have not been very sympathetic.
        I think this strategy is a fail – they just don’t realize it.

    • So Susan Crockford, Zoologist.
      Just how Walrus trample ? How that work ??
      I can see how polar bears trample, if they are dumb enough to do that rather than just eat instead.
      But trample sound hard for a walrus to do, even with really big teeth.
      g

    • Susan, it is quite clear that arctic sea ice is declining and that this must have an effect on polar bears, seals and walrus…
      There’s no getting away from that fact, is there?
      Ice is at historically low levels and not recovering to pre-2007 levels.
      As a biologist, what effects do you predict on the arctic mammal populations?
      “Earlier this month, NOAA at NSIDC published a new compilation of Arctic sea ice extent using a variety of historical sources, including whaling ship reports and several historical ice chart series from Alaska, the Russian Arctic, Canada, and Denmark. The compilation provides a synthesized mid-monthly estimate extending back to 1850. The study concludes that the current downward trend in sea ice has no precedent in duration or scale of ice loss since 1850. With the exception of the Bering Sea, none of the areas have seen sea ice extents as low as in the past decade. Historical periods that show a decrease in summertime sea ice extent in the Arctic, such as the late 1930’s and 1940’s, are smaller in magnitude than the current downward-trending period.”
      https://nsidc.org/data/g10010

      • Griff, your silly little troll comments ignore or twist arctic records of last century eg 1920s-30s, as well as whaling logs back to the renaissance, from Nordic nations and various navies. We have dealt with this here before your time, but a simple look at the sea ice charts on wuwt show how inane your comments are.

      • no Brett, they don’t… I’m linking authoritative research by the world’s ice experts, showing that all examined records show now has less ice than the 1920s and 1930s.
        and you could also look at Judith Curry’s research, which concludes:
        “The 1920-1940’s arctic sea ice melt can therefore be seen as remarkable, albeit the caveats about apples and oranges need to be applied. Looking at the evidence available from each of the arctic oceans means the ice extent probably lies somewhere within that experienced during the first half of the 2000’s, but was probably not as low as 2007 and 2012.”
        https://judithcurry.com/2013/04/10/historic-variations-in-arctic-sea-ice-part-ii-1920-1950/
        Brett, they looked at the whaling logs, they looked at ALL the records and the verdict is in: now there is less than then
        You go look at their results and tell me what they missed….

  12. Was there any study or mention of Walrus food sources moving in relation to the haul outs? Some how the well documented phenomena that wild animals will tend to relocate in search of food seems to have been overlooked. As sea ice patterns change so will the food source locations.

  13. Why do some people think that it is somehow unnatural or unusual for walrus to haul out on land? In Spitzbergen they have always done so. I can remember having seen walrus hauled out on ice only once there.
    And way back in the Middle Ages before they were hunted to extinction, walrus lived on the Kola coast and in Finnmark in Norway, where there is literally never any ice, thanks to the Gulf Stream.
    Walrus were heavily hunted for their tusks, which are a reasonably good substitute for ivory, and for their hides, since walrus leather was the strongest known substance in the Middle Ages, and the preferred material for ship’s rigging ropes.

    • Because mass haul outs in Alaska and Siberia are unusual and linked to declining sea ice…
      and declining it is:
      “Earlier this month, NOAA at NSIDC published a new compilation of Arctic sea ice extent using a variety of historical sources, including whaling ship reports and several historical ice chart series from Alaska, the Russian Arctic, Canada, and Denmark. The compilation provides a synthesized mid-monthly estimate extending back to 1850. The study concludes that the current downward trend in sea ice has no precedent in duration or scale of ice loss since 1850. With the exception of the Bering Sea, none of the areas have seen sea ice extents as low as in the past decade. Historical periods that show a decrease in summertime sea ice extent in the Arctic, such as the late 1930’s and 1940’s, are smaller in magnitude than the current downward-trending period.”
      https://nsidc.org/data/g10010

      • @Griff:
        So reports of Vikings growing wine grapes at their Greenland settlements during the Medieval Warm Period, and sailing the ice-free Arctic are just myths, then? The archaeology done to unearth these places & records was all fabricated? If “no,” then we are nowhere close to “historically low” levels of sea ice, regardless of what our satellite records show from 1979 onward. Let me know when there’s NO sea ice in the Arctic, and then I’ll start to side with your opinion regarding “historically low” levels of sea ice.
        [ It’s written into their mythology, for crying out loud: a warm “present,” with an icy Ragnarok off in the past/future, with the whole cycle periodically repeating. . . . ]

      • The ice retreat currently is far beyond any recorded Norse settlement… beyond any sea limit reached by those hardy adventurers…
        That’s the point this research proves… that however far it retreated in the MWP or 1930s/1940s, now we are beyond those previous lows and dropping

        • Griff

          That’s the point this research proves… that however far it retreated in the MWP or 1930s/1940s, now we are beyond those previous lows and dropping

          Odd that you would claim that. even in today’s very short satellite record, today’s Arctic sea ice extent is right at the -2 std deviations line – lower earlier this spring for a while then going up back inside 2 std deviations.
          And these anomalies are of the satellite record average! not some unknown 1600’s era “record”. Then arctic sea ice went above the -2 std deviations line, and now is back right below it. Now, +/- 2 std deviations is only a statistical AVERAGE point where we arbitrarily declare that “normal variation” is exceeded. In truth, we have a satellite record only of 1-1/2 to 1-1/4 of HALF a single AMO period. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too early to pretend we know what the real arctic sea ice cycle actually is.
          Oh, by the way, in 2014, the “excess” Antarctic sea ice alone was greater than the entire area of Greenland.

      • @Griff:
        Oh, I must have missed it: which satellite image (I work with them, but I confess I don’t look at all of them every single day) shows the Arctic as being ice-free? I didn’t think there’d been one yet, but I’m open to the data: show me.
        Speaking of data, your referenced work ends three years ago (and even it doesn’t claim an ice-free Arctic during the time of observation), but if you check today, we’re quite above 2007 levels (even when just considering the Arctic), so, your assertion of “Ice … not recovering to pre-2007 levels” is factually & demonstrably incorrect.
        Further, it’s August, and Svalbard still has sea ice on its northern coastlines. When we can re-enact their sailing from Svalbard to the northern shore of Greenland without an icebreaker YEAR-ROUND, then you can claim “historically low levels.”

      • It isn’t yet ice free (yet), but it is freer of ice than at any time in the historical record, nor has it recovered to the pre-2007 level which is equivalent to low point in previous cycle (1920s to 1940s).
        We are below 2007 levels in extent/area I believe and will certainly end the summer at a lower level than 2007
        Svalbard is completely separate from the mass of arctic ice and the ‘fast’ coastal ice it usually retains is at a lower level than ever.
        http://www.iup.uni-bremen.de:8084/amsr2/Arctic_AMSR2_visual.png

        • Griff

          We are below 2007 levels in extent/area I believe and will certainly end the summer at a lower level than 2007

          No. We are now (early August) right on the same summer curve most years exhibit recently. The EARLY summer arctic sea ice was below 2007 – spring sea ice does NOT relate to fall sea ice.
          In fact – and in total opposition to the basic assumptions of arctic sea ice assumptions – low spring sea ice usually means a higher fall sea ice extent, and a high spring (in March-April) arctic sea ice extent at maximum are usually followed by a lower fall sea ice extents at minimum in September.
          By August 12, Judith Curry reports the arctic sun at 78-79 north is not strong enough to even keep the shallow melt water ponds frozen overnight.
          By September 1, there is not enough sunlight falling at high enough angles on the arctic sea ice to even create a net day-long total warming event.
          Between Sept 1 through March 31, more heat is lost from exposed arctic ocean waters through increased convection, conduction, and evaporation losses than is gained from sunlight absorption into those exposed water. So, seven months of the year, less arctic sea ice = more heat losses from the ocean into space!

      • “and declining it is”
        That dataset is essentially an elaborate fake since a huge majority of the datapoints are pure invention. In 1850 most of the Arctic had never even been visited. Take the Siberian coast for example: before 1900 it was traversed completely once (by Vega in 1878) and partially once (by Fram in 1893). So to reconstruct the ice extent during those 50 years (18263 days) you have 1.5 one-day datapoints (less, actually, since there are only data in a narrow area along the ships’ tracks).
        “So reports of Vikings growing wine grapes at their Greenland settlements during the Medieval Warm Period, and sailing the ice-free Arctic are just myths, then?”
        Partially, yes. The Norse grew barley not vines in southern Greenland (incidentally barley won’t ripen there now). And the Arctic wasn’t ice-free, but it is true that there was much less ice around Greenland in c. 1000-1250 AD than there is now as is shown by Icelandic historical sources and archaeological finds on Greenland (e. g. the Kingittorsuaq runestone).

  14. “Svalbard is completely separate from the mass of arctic ice”
    There is nothing remarkable about that. It even happened occasionally during the Little Ice Age, e. g. in 1685 and 1898. During the 1930’s it happened practically every year. Check for yourself:
    http://www.climate-cryosphere.org/resources/historical-ice-chart-archive/quicklooks
    If you ever come to Svalbard, don’t miss visiting Amsterdam Island at the very northwestern tip of the archipelago. At Hollaendernaeset you can see the ruins of “Smeerenburg”, a large dutch whaling station from the seventeenth century. That was during the Little Ice Age, and sailing ships in practice can’t penetrate waters with more than c. 15% ice. I. e. there wasn’t more than 15% ice in summer at the northwestern tip of Svalbard in the seventeenth century. On the other hand they were hunting Right Whales, which stay close to the ice-edge in summer, so the sea-ice was probably not very far away either. Like it is now as a matter of fact.

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