An estimated 35,000 walrus have massed on a beach in Alaska after a fruitless search for sea-ice. A photo taken on Saturday shows the mass gathering a few miles north of Point Lay, 700 miles north-west of Anchorage. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported the scene. The Guardian reports that “the gathering of walrus on shore is a phenomenon that has accompanied the loss of summer sea ice as the climate has warmed. 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.” The World Wildlife Fund has also been monitoring walrus activity, and report similar scenes on the Russian side of the Chukchi Sea, north of the Bering Strait. “It’s another remarkable sign of the dramatic environmental conditions changing as the result of sea ice loss,” said Margaret Williams, managing director of the group’s Arctic program. “The walruses are telling us what the polar bears have told us and what many indigenous people have told us in the high Arctic, 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.”
The Guardian adds that “this summer, the sea ice’s annual low point was the sixth smallest since satellite monitoring began in 1979. Mass gatherings of the animals can lead to deaths of young, as stampedes are common, and are usually set off by a polar bear, human hunter or low-flying airplane. After a stampede at Alaska’s Icy Cape in 2009, 130 carcasses of baby walruses were found. Around 50 carcasses have been spotted at Point Lay in the last week, but Andrea Medeiros of the US Fish and Wildlife Service said it’s unsure what killed them, and that the agency was assembling a necropsy team to determine their cause of death. “They’re going to get them out there next week,” she said.