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Walruses Attack Spectacled Eiders Wintering in Pack Ice of the Bering Sea

James R. Lovvorn, Joseph J. Wilson, David McKay, Joseph K. Bump, Lee W. Cooper, Jacqueline M. Grebmeier

Abstract


We observed walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) pursuing spectacled eiders (Somateria fischeri) within pack ice of the Bering Sea, 70–90 km from the nearest land. We used both direct observations from a helicopter and a heligimbal camera system that can film animals from a helicopter at high altitudes. The eiders were in monospecific flocks of thousands of birds within large leads. The walruses apparently tried to catch the eiders from below; the eiders responded with a “flash expansion” (explosive radial movement), wing-flapping and running along the water surface to escape. Disturbance by individual walruses could restrict flocks of thousands of birds to small portions of the open water. In eight such events that we witnessed over 75 min of observations, we were unable to confirm that walruses captured any of these full-grown, flight-capable eiders. However, the high rate of attacks and the eiders’ dramatic escape response suggest that walruses can at times be effective predators on them, and may affect the eiders’ dispersion and energy balance.

Key words: Bering Sea, heligimbal camera system, marine mammal predation on birds, pinniped predation on birds, predator avoidance, spectacled eider, walrus

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14430/arctic646