The status of the Atlantic walrus (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus L.) in eastern Greenland is reviewed on the basis of several historical and recent sources of information on distribution, numbers and catch.
Walruses occur in small groups along the east coast of Greenland from approximately 63°N to approximately 81°N. Their largest abundance is, however, north of approximately 73°30´N. The sexes are generally segregated during summer: During August and September, about 50 males are found at each of two terrestrial haulouts Sandøen (74° 15' N) and Lille Snenæs (76° 52´N). Movement of walruses that could be identified from natural marks indicates that there is a connection between the two groups. During summer, the majority of mature females and subadults of both sexes are distributed further north, between about 80° N and about 81°N.
Walruses winter in the Northeast Water Polynya, in leads and cracks in the offshore pack ice in the Fram Strait and Greenland Sea between about 78°N and about 81°N, further south in smaller recurring polynyas, and in the shear zone between fast ice and the pack ice along the east coast of Greenland. Although a connection between walruses in eastern Greenland and Svalbard has been demonstrated, the extent to which the eastern Greenland population is geographically isolated from groups further east has not been determined.
A total kill of about 1680 walruses (including walruses killed-but-lost) by European sealers and hunters between 1889 and 1955 severely reduced the walrus population in eastern Greenland. Back-calculations based on estimates of the present population size of between 500 and 1000 walruses indicate that this population numbered between 700 and 1900 individuals in 1889, and most likely about 900 individuals. It is estimated that Greenlanders removed 20 to 30 walruses (primarily males) annually during the 1980s and 1990s (23% killed-but lost animals included). This appears to be a sustainable catch.