A popular webcam is once again streaming to the Internet. It is showing large male Pacific walruses lying on the beach while a number of seabirds fly overhead.
The high-definition stream from Alaska's remote Round Island had been dormant for nearly a decade. Its private funding ran out. But a version is back now. It's thanks to an organization that operates a series of nature webcams from around the planet. The walrus cam is part of the Pearls of the Planet series. It can be viewed at: http://explore.org/live-cams/player/walrus-cam-round-island.
A monetary grant from explore.org, along with other donations this year, had an unintended benefit for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The funds are allowing the Alaska state government to put two paid staff members on the island. It is located about 400 miles southwest of Anchorage. The staffers will welcome the handful of visitors the island gets every year. They also will help prevent boats or aircraft from spooking the 2-ton walruses and sparking a stampede.
If the donation hadn't come through, Round Island would have been closed to visitors this year. The state of Alaska is struggling financially. Oil prices are critical there and they have been lower this year.
"It was just serendipity," said Charlie Annenberg Weingarten. He is the vice president of the Annenberg Foundation. He also is founder of explore.org. "I would have done it anyway. But this is really a cherry on top, knowing we were able to assist them in furthering their research, their love of their work and be able to share with the people."
The state Department of Fish and Game worked with a private donor in 2005 to stream images from Round Island. It is part of the Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary. The feed was sent over the Internet. It is featured at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, where it was widely popular with visitors. The center is another donor this year.
Operational problems with the camera and a lack of funding eventually doomed the project.
Maria Gladziszewski is the acting deputy director of Fish and Game's Division of Wildlife Conservation. She said the state had discussed looking for another partner. It wasn't an active search until explore.org added the brown bear cams from Alaska's Katmai National Park and Preserve.
"I thought, 'Gee, I wonder if they'd be interested in doing a walrus cam?'" she said.
Gladziszewski called and found out Weingarten had always intended to feature walruses. "It was fortuitous. And we were off trying to make it happen," she said.
Weingarten said walruses are as majestic as the brown bears that inhabit Katmai. But for most people, they are even less accessible.
Round Island can only be reached by an hours-long boat ride from hub communities in southwest Alaska. The island had just 42 visitors last year. Only five of those camped out overnight in the primitive conditions.
The four Round Island webcams allow up-close views of walruses that few people ever see in person.
"To be able to capture a walrus, not just 'a' walrus but a herd of walrus on a beach is beyond description," Weingarten said.
Up to 14,000 of the tusked mammals haul out on the island while the females are off raising their pups.
"It's important to show people and showcase what is out there," Gladziszewski said.
"This is an incredible resource to have and very, very difficult to get to," she said. "And to show people, from Bristol Bay to their desk in Indiana or wherever, it's an incredible opportunity."
Critical thinking challenge: How did brown bear cams affect walrus cams?