After all of my years guiding in the most remote, beautiful, wild places, I had still never seen a walrus until last summer. It takes a concerted effort and hours flying to see walrus, but it is absolutely worth it.
After searching for the ideal location to observe and photograph Pacific walrus we have found a magnificent location, ideal for wildlife enthusiasts, photographers and those seeking a unique adventure.
Last July I took a small group to Bristol Bay and we spent 5 days hiking, photographing, beach-combing and exploring this wild and rugged coastline. From our sturdy and comfortable camp on the beach we ventured over sea cliffs, up glacial rivers and of course near to the walrus colony.
Perhaps 600 to 1000 walrus were piled in tightly at the base of a sandstone cliff and the knot of animals seemed always to be in motion. Males jabbed at each other with gleaming tusks, slithered/ crawled over on another heading to or from the sea, jockeyed for a softer spot on the beach and always there were walrus swimming in the breakers.
In addition to the staggering numbers of walrus we also observed a large colony of black-legged kittiwakes, and a smaller nesting colony of murres. Beach-combing for glass fishing floats was fantastic and we found lots of walrus bones and other flotsam cast ashore by the Bering Sea.
The Bering Sea region has some of the best beaches in the world, but because of its climate it isn’t known as a great place for a beach vacation. Normally storm-tossed and leaden grey, we were treated to some exceptionally nice weather with views of the Veniaminof Volcano several days. When not watching the comings and goings at the walrus colony 3/4 of a mile from our camp, we walked the beach and ventured inland. The tundra hiking along the river was good with wildflowers thick on the banks and several beautiful creeks braiding across the tundra.
In addition to the walrus and bird life, we saw red fox, one of whom ran directly into the walrus colony scaring half of the animal into the sea and sending the other half, terrified, to the base of the cliffs. Why a 1200 pound walrus would be terror-stricken when faced with a 12 pound fox, I do not know. But it was an amusing sight.
We also saw the largest brown bear I have seen in my life. It wasn’t as heavy as some bears I’ve seen in Katmai National Park, but it was long-legged and rangy. Its build was more like a wolf than like most bears and he/ she was stunningly beautiful walking through the waist high flowers behind camp.
Walrus feed on the bottom of shallow polar seas and come to shore regularly to rest. These resting periods are critical for walrus and frightening them is both immoral and illegal. As the fox showed us, it is also very easy to spook them and we took great pains to make sure they could not see or smell us while we were in the area. This haul-out is ideally situated so that the animals can be observed without disturbing them. After several years of trying to help photographers and naturalists observe walrus it was very exciting to have such a successful trip and we are eager to re-visit the area.
Read a sample itinerary, or contact us to plan your trip to the Bering Sea.