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A photo shows several dead walruses in northwest Alaska, some with their heads cut off, presumably for their ivory tusks. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Feds open investigation into Alaskan walrus deaths

WT24 Desk

CAPE LISBURNE, Alaska — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has opened a criminal investigation into the deaths of 25 walruses in northwest Alaska, after fielding reports that the mammals were shot by a poacher, UPI reports.

Initial reports suggest the walruses, found on an isolated beach, were shot and several had been decapitated, likely by poachers after the mammals’ ivory tusks. Though photographic evidence seems to confirm reports of decapitation, Fish and Wildlife Service officials have neglected to speculate on the cause of death until their investigation is concluded.

Following the reports, the FWS sent investigators to the beach in Cape Lisburne, on the Chukchi Sea along the remote northwest coast of Alaska. Investigators have not yet returned.Native Alaskans are permitted to hunt walruses, but strictly for sustenance and not for the harvesting of ivory. Wasting walrus meat is illegal.

“This kind of stuff, we don’t tolerate,” Steve Oomittuk, a subsistence whale and walrus hunter in nearby Point Hope, Alaska, told the Alaska Public Radio Network. “The animals have always been a food source for us. And we were never taught to waste, or anything like that. So we just want to get to the bottom of this and we find out what exactly happened.”

The same poor sea ice conditions that have forced thousands of walruses on area beaches also made hunting for Oomittuk and other Native Alaskans difficult this year. Andrea Medeiros, a spokeswoman for FWS, said the investigators initial arrival in Cape Lisburne was delayed last week by bad weather, but that they are working diligently to conclude their inquiry.

“Time is of the essence in a case like this,” Medeiros told Alaska Dispatch News. “You have to get out there and look at the animals, because you have animals that can feed on these carcasses and crime scenes can be damaged by natural feeding.”

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