CBC News , 10 May 2006

Walrus numbers in decline, Canadian scientists warn

The Atlantic walrus population is now a species of special concern and over-hunting may be to blame, says the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

The federal committee, which met late last month to consider the health of species in Canada, estimates there may be fewer than than 15,000 walruses in Arctic waters.

Dr. Andrew Trites, who co-chairs the marine mammal specialist group for COSEWIC, said the populations seem to be particularly low in the southeast part of Hudson Bay and in Baffin Bay.

"We're concerned about that, and we're basically letting people of Nunavut and people of Canada know that things are not all well with walrus," he said.

But Joe Tigullaraq, the chair of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, said he's worried about the way the COSEWIC is lumping together populations that range from the High Arctic to Nova Scotia.

"The populations that are actually very healthy will be treated the same way as the populations that are in trouble," he said. "That's a problem in itself."

The new designation for the walrus will not mean changes to hunting quotas, but Trites said research needs to be done to determine if hunting is happening at sustainable levels.

"Numbers killed are fairly low as you look around the Arctic," he said. "And so, while no single person is taking too many, the sum collectively, they all add up."

Trites said the committee will re-examine the status of the walrus as updated statistics come in. If further research proves the walrus is in trouble, its status could be changed to threatened or endangered.

COSEWIC meets every April to  declare the status of all species reviewed on Canada's official list of endangered species.  There are now 529 species in various risk categories, including 206 endangered; 135 threatened; 153 special concern; 22 extirpated species (no longer found in the wild) and 13 extinct.