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Mass gathering of 35,000 walruses is latest sign of global warming
 
Oct 01, 2014
 
Agencies
 
The gathering of walruses on shore is a phenomenon that has accompanied the loss of summer sea ice as the climate has warmed.

ANCHORAGE:
Pacific walrus that can't find sea ice for resting in Arctic waters are coming ashore in record numbers on a beach in northwest Alaska.

An estimated 35,000 walruses were photographed on Saturday about 5 miles (8 kilometers) north of Point Lay, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Point Lay is an Inupiat Eskimo village 300 miles (482 kilometers) southwest of Barrow and 700 miles (1,126 kilometers) northwest of Anchorage.

The enormous gathering was spotted during NOAA's annual arctic marine mammal aerial survey, spokeswoman Julie Speegle said by email. The survey is conducted with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the agency that oversees offshore lease sales.

Andrea Medeiros, spokeswoman for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said walruses were first spotted Sept 13 and have been moving on and off shore. Observers last week saw about 50 carcasses on the beach from animals that may have been killed in a stampede, and the agency was assembly a necropsy team to determine their cause of death.

"They're going to get them out there next week," she said.

The gathering of walruses on shore is a phenomenon that has accompanied the loss of summer sea ice as the climate has warmed.

Pacific walruses 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, walruses 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. Females and their young ride the edge of the sea ice into the Chukchi Sea, the body of water north of the Bering Strait.

In recent years, sea ice has receded north beyond shallow continental shelf waters and into Arctic Ocean water, where depths exceed 2 miles (3 kilometers) and walruses cannot dive to the bottom.

Walruses in large numbers were first spotted on the US side of the Chukchi Sea in 2007. They returned in 2009, and in 2011, scientists estimated 30,000 walruses appeared along a half-mile stretch (1 kilometer) of beach near Point Lay.

Young animals are vulnerable to stampedes when a group gathers nearly shoulder-to-shoulder on a beach. Stampedes can be triggered by a polar bear, human hunter or low-flying airplane. The carcasses of more than 130 mostly young walruses were counted after a stampede in September 2009 at Alaska's Icy Cape.

 

 
 

 
 

 
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