The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has launched an official investigation into the death of two dozen Pacific walruses.
The 13 adults and 12 pups were found on an isolated beach near Cape Lisburne last week, with unconfirmed reports indicating that the animals had been shot. Several of the animals were reportedly decapitated, prompting speculation that the walruses were killed for their valuable tusks.
Federal investigators, however, have not yet determined the walruses' cause of death and are hesitant to definitively say that the animals had been killed for their tusks.
"We can't say with any certainty what for one the cause of death here was. You know, these animals, from the photos, do appear to have their heads taken off, but we can't make any assumptions that that's why they were killed, if they were in fact killed. You know, people can take the heads if they find a dead walrus on the beach," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Andrea Medeioros told KNBA.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 prohibits killing walruses purely for their ivory. If convicted, a violator can face a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison. Under the law, however, Alaska Natives may still hunt walruses for subsistence.
Throughout the summer 2007, dozens of headless walruses similarly washed ashore throughout Alaska.
Article first appeared on Discovery's blog Discovrd.