Assessing the physical condition of wild walruses

Despite their weight of 2 tons (for the largest males), walruses are unfortunately classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The melting of Arctic sea ice due to climate change poses a potential threat to their survival in the wild. Walruses primarily feed on bivalve mollusks and other species on the ocean floor. They need a place to rest between dives, preferably on sea ice, which keeps them close to their food source.

The health of the walruses in danger

With climate change, sea ice is disappearing almost completely in summer in some areas. Forced to come ashore to rest, walruses must travel longer distances to find food and therefore expend more energy. If walruses expend more energy than they consume, weight loss is inevitable, with risks to their health and reproduction. However, it is unthinkable to put wild walruses on the scale to monitor their condition!

How can the physical condition of wild walruses be evaluated?

The aim of the project, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, is to evaluate the physical condition of walruses remotely using imaging methods. Aerial photos of wild walruses will be captured using drones. Through modeling, these photos will be used to estimate the weight of the walruses, without the need for a scale! To validate the model, the animals photographed must first be weighed and measured. This process is only feasible in a zoo. Therefore, the walruses at Pairi Daiza are valuable partners for scientific research!


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