From: Mary Pemberton, Associated Press
Published August 16, 2007 10:02 AM

Headless Walruses Alarm Alaska Officials

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- An unusually high number of walrus carcasses missing their heads and ivory tusks have washed up on beaches this summer, alarming wildlife officials.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn't know whether the dozens of walrus carcasses counted along a 40-mile stretch in Norton Sound are part of a crime or whether sloppy hunters are responsible.


Pacific walruses are not considered endangered but can be hunted only by Alaska Natives, who are required to use a certain amount of the animal or face fines for being wasteful. The tusks are often carved or used in native arts and crafts.


"There is no evidence that subsistence hunting is causing a problem," said John Trent, lead biologist with the Fish and Wildlife walrus program. "I think most people do try very hard. ... They absolutely depend on these animals."


Non-natives can harvest walrus tusks if they find a carcass, but they can't profit from them. Officials said cases of a non-native illegally killing a walrus is unusual.


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In late June and early July, 79 walrus carcasses -- about twice as many as in any year in the past decade -- were counted, said Steve Oberholtzer, a special agent in Anchorage.


"Every one of them had the head removed," he said, adding the ones that investigators got a close look at had been shot.


Karl Erickson, a state trooper in Unalakleet, said the incidence of wasteful take has slowed in recent years but perhaps "is ramping back up."


Source: Associated Press


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