Four men from a village in northwest Alaska have been charged with killing walrus that came ashore in 2015 and leaving the meat to rot.
Federal prosecutors filed five misdemeanor charges that accuse the men of either shooting walrus and taking only their ivory tusks or causing stampedes that crushed walrus pups at Cape Lisburne.
The four are Adam Sage, Michael Tuzroyluk Jr., Guy Tuzroyluk and Jacob Lane. Lane is charged only with one count of causing a herd to stampede.
The misdemeanor counts carry a maximum sentence of up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Cooper by phone from Fairbanks.
The men are not in custody. They are scheduled for arraignment Nov. 14 in Fairbanks, Cooper said.
Online court documents do not list attorneys for the men. Sage does not have a phone listing. A message left for Michael or Guy Tuzroyluk was not immediately returned and a call to Lane was not answered.
Walrus use sea ice as a platform for diving to reach clams and sea snails on the ocean floor.
The appearance of walrus in large numbers on Alaska's northwest coast in late summer or early fall has accelerated over the last decade as climate warming has caused sea ice to recede far beyond the shallow continental shelf and over water too deep for walrus to reach the ocean bottom.
An estimated 35,000 Pacific walrus were photographed in early September 2015 near Point Lay, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) northeast of Cape Lisburne. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this year has reported no large herds and say remnant ice floating in the Chukchi Sea may be plentiful enough to keep walrus off shore.
Grouped shoulder-to-shoulder on rocky beaches, walrus are subject to stampedes if startled by an airplane, hunter or polar bear.
In mid-September 2015, a person connected to a remote Air Force radar station photographed 25 dead walrus at Cape Lisburne, about 230 miles northeast of the Bering Strait.
Some had been beheaded. Twelve pups were among the dead.
Only Alaska Natives who live in the state may hunt walrus. Walrus killed only for ivory is considered wasteful and head-hunting is illegal.
Prosecutors say all four of the men charged last week were qualified to take marine mammals for subsistence purposes.
According to prosecutors, Sage, Michael Tuzroyluk and Guy Tuzroyluk shot a total of eight walrus on Sept. 2 or Sept. 4, 2015, removed tusks and left the meat to waste.
Lane, but not Guy Tuzroyluk, is charged with being along on the second day. On both days, the men are charged with walking on a beach toward several hundred walrus, causing the herd to stampede into the water and injuring and killing animals.