Walruses hauled out on a remote barrier island in the Chukchi Sea near Point Lay. (Photo: Courtesy NOAA Fisheries)

35,000 Walruses Hit the Beach as Their Alaskan Home Melts Away

Climate change means the marine mammals are running out of places to go.
Oct 1, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

With sea ice disappearing, walruses in northeast Alaska are taking to land—in droves.

Aerial survey images released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show more than 35,000 of the mustachioed marine mammals huddled along the shoreline of a remote barrier island in the Chukchi Sea.

Large walrus haul-outs along the Alaskan coast are a relatively new phenomenon, according to NOAA.

Last year, a walrus pile near the village of Point Lay grew consistently through September. Scientists first discovered 1,500 walruses in a September fly-by. Each subsequent survey found more walruses; by the end of the month, 10,000 were crammed on the beach.

A survey conducted Saturday found more than 35,000 walruses piled up on the beach, with 36 reported dead nearby.

Typically, walruses haul out on ice to rest, but with water temperatures in the North Pacific Ocean some of the warmest on record, sea ice is disappearing.

“Due to loss of ice in offshore areas, walruses are foraging in more coastal areas and using beaches for resting,” the NOAA report said.

NOAA first discovered a large haul-out in 2007 in Point Lay, coinciding with an unprecedented loss of sea ice across the Chukchi Sea.

Arctic sea ice reached its smallest extent of the season Sept. 17, and at 1.94 million square miles, it’s the sixth smallest on record.

“The walruses are telling us what the polar bears have told us and what many indigenous people have told us in the Arctic,” Margaret Williams, managing director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Arctic program, told the AP. “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 cause of climate change.”