One of the weirdest job duties I ever had was removing tusks from dead Walrus. I didn’t have to do this too often—only seven times. I was working as a volunteer on Togiak National Wildlife Refuge at Cape Pierce doing marine mammal, nesting sea bird, and migrating waterfowl surveys back in 1986. A portion of male walrus population remain in the southern Bering Sea in the summer while the females and young stay with the ice pack as it recedes north.
I don’t have photos from my time with the Walrus because my camera broke, but here’s a few I found taken at Cape Pierce from subsequent years.
Cape Pierce is a remote, windswept peninsula jutting into the Bering Sea in the lonely Southwestern corner of Alaska.
In the two and half months I worked there we had visitors twice.
It’s a 90 minute bush plane flight from the nearest settlement. Yeah, it was out there. And the wind blew almost all the time. Twenty miles per hour was normal. The highest wind speed I recorded was 65 mph.
The Walrus would haul out in these sand dunes—anywhere from six to twelve thousand of them.
Over the course of several days the walrus would leave to hunt for food on the ocean bottom and then come back and rest.
The reason we had to remove the tusks from the dead animals was to prevent poachers from flying low over the herd and harassing them. Ivory sticking up in the air attracted poachers who would fly in small planes.
One shady character was rumored to have a gun mounted on the wing of his plane. We were given a description of his plane and were supposed to take cover if we spotted him in the air. Otherwise, we were supposed to make ourselves visible because just having people out there was a huge deterrent.
Before the Fish and Wildlife Service stationed people at Cape Pierce they averaged two disturbances a week. The ten weeks I was there we had zero disturbances.
It was a bloody, stinky job removing the tusks. Think major dental work on something big that’d been dead for a while.
I didn’t know that’d be one of my job duties when I accepted the position but hey, you can’t know everything, and given the circumstances, I was glad to do it.
It wasn’t your typical beach party.