What Does a Gathering of 2,000 Walruses Look Like? See for Yourself
Alaska’s walruses are back online. After a decade-long hiatus, a live camera is sending images of the blubbery beasts to the rest of the world 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as they wallow along the beaches of remote Round Island, Alaska.
The Round Island walrus cam first became Internet-famous back in 2005. But the funds ran out, and Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game shut the feed down.
This year, Explore.org, a nonprofit founded by philanthropist Charles Annenberg Weingarten, put up the funds for four high-resolution cameras positioned along the most popular hangout spots on the island. Upwards of 2,000 to 3,000 male Pacific walruses can be seen in the frame at any given time.
The small, craggy island in Bristol Bay is apparently the perfect location to “haul out” and rest up for the impending mating season.
“The walrus is a mythical giant of the seas,” Weingarten said in a statement. “To most, the creature is a caricature that will only be seen at a zoo or in a depiction from mass media. We are honored to bring people up close to observe the walrus in their natural habitat.”
While the video feed is a great opportunity to spy on unsuspecting walruses from the comfort of your home, it is also a chance to see the impacts of climate change on some of the world’s most vulnerable wildlife.
The males appear to be enjoying Alaska’s southern beaches. But normally walruses live on the ice, even in summer. Right now female walruses are hundreds of miles north in the Chukchi Sea, hanging out on the ice edge, foraging for food, and nursing their young pups.
With rising sea temperatures, Arctic sea ice is melting more quickly and receding farther each summer, forcing even the northernmost walruses to haul out on land that’s typically covered in ice.
Last October saw the sixth-lowest extent of summer sea ice ever recorded in the Arctic, which led 35,000 walruses to pile up on the beach near the village of Point Lay.
It is a relatively new phenomenon for walruses to haul out on beaches instead of ice this far north, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and it’s just one of many ways the ongoing loss of ice is expected to change walrus behavior.
With Arctic sea routes opening up for longer spans of time during the summer, experts expect tourism in the region to increase along with shipping traffic and oil exploration. That will mean more contact between animals typically protected by the ice—like walruses, ice seals, and narwhals—and humans, with as-yet-uncertain consequences.