35,000 walruses on Alaskan beach as sea ice shrinks

The mass migration of walruses on a beach near Point Lay, Alaska.
Corey Accardo/AP

The biggest known exodus of walruses on to dry land in Alaska has coincided with summer ice in the Arctic falling to its sixth lowest level in the satellite record.

An estimated 35,000 walruses near Point Lay, Alaska, have essentially run out of offshore sea ice and have no other choice but to come ashore, Chadwick Jay, a research ecologist with the US Geological Survey told The Guardian.

Walruses spend 80% of their time in the ocean, but leave the water for the females to give birth. Traditionally, that took place on sea ice but since 2007 they have headed for the beaches because retreating sea ice was forcing them to make drastic changes to their behavior, Jay said.

He believed the new pattern of walrus migration was caused by climate change.

The most immediate threat faced by the mostly female walruses and their young is a stampede. For this reason, flights above the area in the Chuckchi Sea have been re-routed so as not to disturb the animals, who are naturally skittish.

Mass deaths of stampeding walruses have been recorded in Russia, where the animals have been migrating to the beaches during the summer for some years.

More photos of the Alaska walruses can be seen here.

  1. http://nsidc.org/news/newsroom/arctic-sea-ice-reaches-minimum-extent-2014
  2. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2014/oct/01/walrus-mass-on-alaska-beach-in-pictures
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