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Walrus Slaughter in Alaska Raises Ivory Poaching Concerns

Sep 23, 2015 02:11 PM EDT

A total of 25 walrus along an Alaskan beach were found decapitated. This large-scale slaughter prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to investigate, and while the cause of death has not been determined, they believe it could be linked to the illegal ivory trade. Walrus tusks are made of ivory.

"We can't say with any certainty what the cause of death here was. You know, these animals, from the photos, do appear to have their heads taken off, but we can't make any assumptions that that's why they were killed, if they were, in fact, killed," Andrea Medeioros, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement. "You know, people can take the heads if they find a dead walrus on the beach." 

Under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is illegal to hunt walrus solely for their ivory and not their meat. 

A nearby Air Force radio station originally reported the sighting near Cape Lisburne to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There were 12 pups and 13 adults found dead on the beach. Not only were they decapitated, but bullet holes were also found in many of the bodies. Walrus meat is often consumed as a good source of protein, but the mammal's ivory is often used for jewelry and clothing. Some walrus' oosiks (penis bones) were also harvested.

"This kind of stuff, we don't tolerate," Steve Oomittuk, a subsistence whale and walrus hunter in nearby Point Hope, Alaska, said. "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 find out what exactly happened."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife is conducting the investigation with the Eskimo Walrus Commission

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