The 10,000 walrus party that gathered on a barrier island beach in Alaska could have an environmental cause for their unusual behavior. According to the AP, the walruses can’t find sufficient sea ice this year in the warming waters of the Arctic Ocean. The females use the ice to give birth, and they dive off the ice to find food, like clams and worms on the reef.
We’ve become accustomed to tales of shrinking ice caps and rising seas, but the pictures make the evidence hard to ignore. Usually, temperatures warm in the summer, causing the edge of the sea ice to recede north. Females and babies ride the edge of the sea ice into the Chukchi Sea. However, in recent years, sea ice has receded north beyond continental shelf waters and into Arctic Ocean water 10,000 feet deep or more where walrus cannot dive to the bottom.
Large numbers of walrus were first spotted on the U.S. side of the Chukchi Sea in 2007, and returned in 2009. In 2011, scientists estimated 30,000 walruses camping along one kilometer of beach near Point Lay. Remnant ice kept walrus offshore in 2008 and again last year. This year, there is no remnant.
The walruses aren’t the only mammals in the Arctic Ocean being effected. The goal of the marine mammals survey that photographed the walrus gathering is to record the abundance of bowhead, gray, minke, fin and beluga whales plus other marine mammals in areas of potential oil and natural gas development, said NOAA Fisheries marine mammal scientist Megan Ferguson.
“In addition to photographing the walrus haulout area, NOAA scientists documented more bowhead whales, including calves and feeding adults in the Beaufort Sea this summer compared to 2012,” said Ferguson. “We are also seeing more gray whale calves in the Chukchi Sea than we have in recent years.”
Image via youtube