Past and Present Distribution of Walruses in Svalbard


  • Ian Gjertz
  • Øystein Wiig



Animal distribution, Animal migration, Animal population, Animal taxonomy, History, Hunting, Walruses, Wildlife management, Svalbard, Svalbard waters


Walruses were once very abundant in the Svalbard archipelago. However three and a half centuries of commercial exploitation had caused the walrus to be on the verge of extinction in this region when it finally was totally protected in 1952. Since the mid-1980s walruses have again been commonly seen in parts of Svalbard. Based on information from literature, interviews and field observations, we attempt to identify in which areas of Svalbard, both historically and presently, walruses most frequently are observed and indicate the presence of all known walrus haul-out sites in the archipelago. Our study shows that walruses most frequently have been encountered during summer in four main areas. The results further indicate that walruses in Svalbard are predominantly males. Females and calves are, when encountered, mostly found in the extreme northeast part of Svalbard, neighboring the Russian archipelago Franz Josef Land. We discuss the possibility of migrations occurring between these two geographical areas and suggest that walruses in these two archipelagos are part of one common stock.

Key words: walrus, Odobenus rosmarus, Svalbard, distribution