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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 June 2007, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
Last tagged walrus keeps on move
By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC News

Walrus two
The female's tag has shown she is near Baffin Island
The remaining tagged walrus in a study trying to find out where the tusked beasts migrate is still on the move.

In the past few weeks, she has swum hundreds of kilometres from Greenland towards Canada and is now in a fjord off the east coast of Baffin Island.

The female, whose progress can be seen on the BBC's Walrus Watch map, is 10-12 years old. She has a calf in tow.

In April, satellite tags were attached to eight walruses in west Greenland, but only one tag is now signalling.

The Greenlandic-Danish team behind the project is aiming to find out where walruses that spend their winters off the west coast of Greenland travel to over the summer.

The tags were fired into the animals' hides using a CO2-powered gun, harpoon or crossbow.

The seven no longer signalling may have been pushed out as the walruses' hides healed, crushed under the sheer bulk of the creatures or even scratched off.

The scientists' interest now lies with the remaining tagged female, who can be seen as walrus two on the Walrus Watch map.

Luckily, the signals received via the Argos satellite system show that she has been on the move.

"The last position we received was on 1 June and prior to that the coverage has been really good," explained Rune Dietz, a biologist from the Danish Natural Environmental Research Institute and one of the tagging project's researchers.

"We can see that it is moving quite a distance into the Cumberland Sound (which sits between Canada's east coast and Baffin Island) and she is now on the north side of the fjord system there."

One of the Argos satellites (CLS)

The walrus could settle for the summer near there, explained Dr Dietz.

"Come August, she will move on to land and begin to moult, and on this part of south-eastern Baffin Island there are a number of known haul-out sites," he added.

The researchers hope to find out where west Greenland's walruses are migrating so they can establish if they are joining up with any other of the Arctic's walrus populations.

One reason for doing this is to look at whether the level of hunting from local Inuit is currently sustainable. If this walrus population is joining up with another hunted population then the current limits set by Greenland's authorities may have to change.

At present, walrus two is not too far from an inhabited area with Inuit hunters, Dr Dietz told the BBC News website.

"However, I do not think it is the hunting season there and ice in the fjord may be separating the hunters from the walruses."

The team also plans to use the data generated from this and future tagging studies to look at how other potential threats are affecting Greenland's walruses.

The researchers will study whether local oil exploration is affecting the animals' movements and they will examine how changes to Greenland's ice-pack brought on by climate change are impacting their migration patterns.

The tagging study is being run by the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, in co-operation with the Danish National Environmental Research Institute and the Technical University of Denmark.

Walrus 1: Male, 4-5 years
Walrus 2: Female, 10-12 years - has yearling calf in tow
Walrus 3: Anomalous data point
Walrus 4: Male, 5-6 years
Walrus 5: Male, 18-20 years
Walrus 6: Female, 5-6 years
Walrus 7: Male, 5-7 years
(No data yet received from a tagged female and her son)

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