Because of the fact that Pacific walruses that can no longer find sea ice for resting in Arctic waters, they are thus coming ashore in record numbers on a beach in northwest Alaska. This problem was aggravated by climate change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.
This September, scientists observed what may be the largest “walrus haul-out” on record, with an estimated 35,000 walruses huddling on the shore of a remote barrier island near Pt. Lay in northwest Alaska.
The marine mammals use sea ice as diving platforms to hunt for food in shallow areas, or as resting points to avoid long, exhausting swims. While it is normal for sea ice to recede into deeper parts of the Arctic Ocean as temperatures warm in the summer, in recent years the ice has moved even further.
Moreover under normal conditions, scientists say, no more than a few hundred walruses will go ashore this time of year. Then, when the ice grows again in the winter, the walruses migrate south with it.
Nevertheless, as adorable as the mass of walruses may be, there are significant concerns about their clustering, including the risk that smaller walruses will be trampled to death. Actually 36 walruses have already been found dead.
“The walruses are telling us what the polar bears have told us and what many indigenous people have told us in the high Arctic,” Margaret Williams, managing director at the WWF, told AP. “And that is that the Arctic environment is changing extremely rapidly and it is time for the rest of the world to take notice and also to take action to address the root causes of climate change.”
Pacific walrus spend winters in the Bering Sea. Females give birth on sea ice and use ice as a diving platform to reach snails, clams and worms on the shallow continental shelf. Unlike seals, walrus cannot swim indefinitely and must rest. They use their tusks to “haul out,” or pull themselves onto ice or rocks. As temperatures warm in summer, the edge of the sea ice recedes north.
These mammals have been seen gathering in large groups on the Russian side of the Chukchi Sea since 2007. The walruses came back again in 2009, and again in 2011, when scientists counted some 30,000 of the animals along a half-mile stretch of beach near Point Lay.