Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary

Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary

Each summer large numbers of walruses haul out on the rocky beaches of these islands on Bristol Bay

Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary is located southwest of Dillingham in northern Bristol Bay. The sanctuary is a remote seven-island preserve that includes the largest walrus haul-out grounds in Alaska. Most visitor attention is focused on Round Island, where each summer up to 14,000 male walruses haul out on the rocky beaches between feedings.

History

First explored by Captain James Cook in 1785, this area earned the name “Walrus Islands” due to the large concentration of walruses that visit these islands every summer; the largest concentration is found on Round Island. Today, this island group is officially designated as Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary, and a permit is required to visit Round Island.

Ecosystem

These craggy coastal islands are located on the Bering Sea, close to the northern shores of Bristol Bay at the entrance to Togiak Bay. The waters are cold all summer, and windy weather is common, causing blowing rain and rough seas.

Wildlife

The waters of Bristol Bay around the WISGS support a diverse group of marine mammals. Of these, Pacific walrus is the best-known and locally abundant inhabitant within the WISGS. The walrus haulout at Round Island is one of four major terrestrial haulouts in Alaska. Walrus return to these haulouts every spring as the ice pack recedes northward, hauling out at these beach sites for several days between feeding forays. The number of walrus using the island fluctuates significantly from year to year, however, up to 14,000 walrus have been counted on Round Island in a single day.

Other wildlife is also plentiful on this remote island. Several hundred Steller sea lions regularly haul out at East Cape, the eastern tip of the island, and are frequently spotted swimming offshore, as are sea lions. Gray whales feed in small pods offshore in April and May during their annual spring migration. Orcas, humpback and minke whales appear from time to time. Harbor seals are common on all of the islands except Round Island. Red foxes inhabit the island and are regularly spotted by visitors. Fox kits (babies) may be observed in summer.

For birders, close to 250,000 seabirds return to the islands to nest and raise their young each summer. Passerines and raptors are among the summer residents.

Activities

Access to the islands from Togiak or Dillingham can be accomplished via commercial or private vessels. A visit to Round Island and its surrounding waters requires a permit, whereas the other islands do not. Activities on Round Island include wildlife viewing, photography, hiking and primitive camping, while the other islands in the sanctuary offer the same plus to fishing.

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