About the Northern Bering Sea: On Marine Mammals and Sea Ice

These abundant amphipods, Ampelisca macrocephala, are about 30 mm (1.2 inches) in size. They live on the seafloor of the northern Bering Sea where they build tubes into soft sediments and are an important part of the marine food web and prey for gray whales. Photo credit: Fisheries & Oceans Canada

Around Thanksgiving, that’s when the ice comes in from the north. When it gets here, there’s ice all over. It drives all the seals at the same time from up north when the ice comes in.13 Edward Shavings—Mekoryuk

Etolin Strait, that’s where they [walrus] travel and they stay on the ice while they’re traveling back and forth.14 Joseph David—Mekoryuk

There used to be walrus northeast to Nunivak Island. We would have to wait awhile, there were so many of them, but today that doesn’t happen. Before to mid 1980’s…ice would be black from walrus in Hazen Bay. You used to not be able to hear the camp stove burning – that loud of noise from walrus passing through on migration.15 David Bill, Sr.—Toksook Bay

Seal and maklaks [bearded seals] here are almost the same as walrus. My grandfather used to call it katawhsaqa – which means "pouring out," referring to all the things that come to us with the ice. Ice moves in here with all these animals.16 Chester Noongwook—Savoonga

Spotted seals are here all summer. Hair seals [long-haired ringed seals] come with the ice. Same time walrus are coming by too. Walrus come with the ice. All marine mammals heading to this big habitat for the winter [points to St. Matthew area]. Other route in the springtime, comes from down there to the north.

When ice hits the island, it comes with lots of seals. They stay all winter somewhere on the ice. About March they start giving birth. They make a little house for their babies [pupping lairs]. After winter, ice breaks and lots of seals are coming up for breathing.

Large cake ice pushes in from the north. If it’s thick enough for walrus to haul on, we’ll see them here and there…And if we see something, we go after it…Game is not always on the edge. Sometimes way inside the ice. So we have to maneuver around some larger cake ice, sometimes a long way to get to the game. Sometimes it’s a long way to get around the ice floes.

We use this ice out here to feed us. Current and wind brought them in and we can eat walrus meat and their clams in their stomachs. That’s the way it is.17 Elders (after group discussion in Yupik)—Gambell

More about the Northern Bering Sea:
On marine mammals and sea ice
On ice dynamics
On respect for ice and currents

Last Updated: 
Thu, 01/21/2016