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Walrus on the edge

This location is so remote, it took the crew over a week to get there.

On the coast of northern Russia in Asia’s Arctic is one of the biggest concentrations of animals on the continent. This is almost the ENTIRE world population of Pacific Walrus - over 100,000 of them, crammed onto a beach no more than a few hundred metres long. This location is so remote, it took the crew over a week to get there.

Spending weeks at sea searching for food, the walrus have come here to rest.

Spending weeks at sea searching for food, the walrus have come here to rest.

These large congregations are becoming more frequent as sea ice, where they would normally haul out, retreats. Scientists studying the population have linked this to climate change.

The crew stayed with biologists Anatoly Kochnev and Maxim Tchakilev in a research hut where they have worked on walrus for over a decade.

This beach is one of the few sheltered bays along this coast, but even here the weather can close in quickly.

Going to the loo was a bit of a challenge, to put it mildly.
Seven Worlds Director, Patrick Evans

With so many walrus here, space was so tight that the crew in their small concrete hut were literally surrounded by these noisy giants.

Patrick Evans, BBC Seven Worlds, One Planet director remembers:

"I woke up one morning and went to open the door. Right at my feet was a giant walrus. Behind it there were dozens more. Beyond them, tens of thousands. Our crew of seven were literally walled in to our hut, which was not much bigger than a garden shed. Attached to the side of our hut was a small wooden lean-to through which the snow would blow, which served as an indoor toilet. But sometimes the walrus even found their way into there. Going to the loo was a bit of a challenge, to put it mildly."

Eventually the walrus moved enough to allow the crew to relieve themselves.

This is not a peaceful scene, the walrus are crowded in and constantly jostling for space, sometimes crushing the unwary. Mothers have to keep a close eye on pups caught up in the struggles.

I was expecting the walrus to be big, which they were, and a little simple - but I was wrong.
Seven Worlds Director, Patrick Evans

Patrick says:

"I was expecting the walrus to be big, which they were, and a little simple - but I was wrong. They are really endearing creatures, they just want to relax but are constantly socialising, exploring, and fighting complex personal battles for space. It makes you think when you see these animals – they go through so much to get to the beaches, they are covered in scars – and all they really want to do is rest!"

And there is another problem...

In some areas along the coast, polar bears have found the walrus.

Polar bears too have to swim longer distances as their sea ice resting spots disappear.

Polar bears are huge, but they are no match for a healthy adult walrus. They rarely succeed in killing them.

But here there is another opportunity for the polar bears.

These beaches are be backed by cliffs and some of the walrus have climbed up high. The polar bears are there too.

The crew were able to film these interactions for the first time!

Drone shots show the polar bears approaching these high-rise walrus. The crew were able to film these interactions for the first time.

The polar bear's approach causes the walrus to panic and, sometimes, even fall off the cliff.

The polar bear's approach causes the walrus to panic

Walrus have poor eyesight and, even once the polar bears have moved on, some still fall as they attempt to return to the sea.

The polar bears are now able to feed on the walrus that have died either by falling off the cliff or in the crush on the beach below. After eight weeks, the crew have been able to record this extreme behaviour right at the edge of the continent.

both the polar bears and walrus have to fight hard for survival here

Life in Asia’s Arctic north can be harsh, both the polar bears and walrus have to fight hard for survival here.

Patrick says:

as soon as I was back I missed their presence.
Seven Worlds Director, Patrick Evans

"I had mixed feelings about leaving the location. It’s very hard to sleep with thousands of giant creatures ‘chatting’ and banging against your hut - the walls were often shaking right through the night. You didn’t know if you’d wake up with a walrus in bed.

But as soon as I was back I missed their presence. They have a lot of charm – and it was great fun being able to stay still and observe them – almost nose to nose!"

Walrus living on the edge

Walrus in northern Russia have a clifftop encounter with a polar bear.