High Arctic Expedition: The Walruses of Devon Island

Herd of walruses resting onshore on Devon Island, Nunavut, Canada. Photograph taken by QLF President, Elizabeth Alling, during Adventure Canada’s August 2019 High Arctic Expedition.

Devon Island, located in the Baffin Bay, has the distinction of being the largest uninhabited island on Earth. With temperatures plummeting to −50 °C (−58 °F) during the winter and short growing seasons, this Canadian island is decidedly remote.

SEE ALSO: Nunavut’s Devon Island, described as ‘Mars on Earth,’ is now mapped by Google Street View

As remote as the Arctic and Devon Island might be, it is still in reach by the long arms of climate change. Ice sheets or islands, which are the preferred land habitats for walruses, are slowly retreating as the planet warms. Small groups of walruses usually congregate on land (known as hall-outs) before heading out to forage for food–small being the key term here. As greater groups of walruses cling to concentrated spaces, food scarcity increases due to localized feeding pressures. The eventual result is that walruses have to hunt further away–and further from their calves–as they leave their young on land while they forage.

Climate change introduces new fears and new trials for the walrus.  The Arctic is an environmentally susceptible ecoregion: the experiences and photographs from the High Arctic Expedition remind us all of its fragility and importance.