Page last updated at 09:12 GMT, Friday, 9 May 2008 10:12 UK

New batch of walruses gets tagged

By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC News

Tagged walruses (Rune Dietz)
This pregnant female walrus was tagged by researchers

Ten walruses in Greenland have been fitted with satellite tags in a new bid to confirm whether the blubbery beasts spend their summers in Canada.

Last year, the same team tagged eight walruses in west Greenland; however, all but one of the sat-tags failed.

The lone working device, fitted to a female walrus, revealed that she had journeyed to Baffin Island, Canada.

The team now awaits the results of the latest study to see if this spot really is the walruses' secret summer hideout.

Until now, scientists have not known exactly where west Greenland's walruses migrate - come summer, the enormous animals simply vanish off the radar.

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How to tag a two-tonne walrus - footage from the 2007 expedition

Like in 2007, the tagging team faced tough conditions when they set sail on the Arctic sea in late April.

Rune Dietz, who led this year's expedition, said: "There were severe ice conditions.

"At one point, there were discussions as to whether the boat would be able to get out of Sisimiut (a town in west Greenland) at all."

The team managed to tag 10 walruses, using small, matchbox-sized satellite tags, which relay coordinates to the researchers via the Argos satellite system.

The devices were attached remotely using a modified harpoon and a CO2-powered gun - because the walruses have such thick skin, they feel little when the devices are secured, say the researchers.

Walrus on the move

The biologist, who is based at the Danish Natural Environmental Research Institute, said: "Out of the 10 tags we got on, one never gave us a signal, another stopped working after a couple of days, but the rest are signalling well, which is a great start.

"At the moment they are showing that most of the walruses have not yet left west Greenland."

Boat used for tagging (Rune Dietz)
Conditions were tough out in the Davis Strait

However, one tag has relayed that a pregnant female has already travelled to Canada, swimming through extremely thick ice, Dr Dietz added.

The team is hoping to combine satellite data from the various walrus tagging studies to finally uncover the mystery of where west Greenland's walruses migrate.

Finding out more about the tusked beasts' movements could help the scientists discern the impacts of hunting, oil exploration and climate change on the animals.

The tagging study was run by the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, in cooperation with the Danish National Environmental Research Institute and the Technical University of Denmark.




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