Estimating the Number of Walruses in Svalbard from Aerial Surveys and Behavioural Data from Satellite Telemetry

  • Christian Lydersen
  • Jon Aars
  • Kit M. Kovacs
Keywords: walrus, Odobenus rosmarus, aerial survey, digital photography, satellite telemetry, haul-out behaviour, Svalbard


All known terrestrial haul-out sites for walruses in Svalbard (n = 79) were surveyed during the period 1–3 August 2006, and sites that were in use (n = 17) were documented using digital photography. A total of 657 walruses were counted on land in the resultant images. An extensive behavioural data set from walruses equipped with satellite relay data loggers, covering August 2002 to August 2005, was used to account for walruses that were in the water. The proportion of walruses at sea during the survey was calculated to be 0.750 on the basis of 28 thirty-day periods from 23 male walruses. Time of day and wind chill did not significantly affect haul-out behaviour. However, a logistic regression model revealed both a correlation among haul-out patterns of individuals within years, and a year effect (chi-square = 6.42, df = 2, p = 0.04). Because the survey was not flown in a year when satellite tags were deployed, the interannual variance was retained in a model (with no other explanatory variables). The overdispersion parameter from this model was 2.02 (deviance = 28.33, df = 14). Thus, variance in proportions of time individuals spent at sea was multiplied by this parameter to achieve a corrected SE around the estimate. The 95% CI based on this SE corresponded to a proportion of walruses at sea during the survey between 0.717 and 0.781, resulting in an estimated total number of walruses in Svalbard in August 2006 of 2629 (95% CI: 2318– 2998).