Climate change is having a pretty startling impact on the Pacific walrus. Once, the creatures used sea ice as resting spots, but as Arctic summers have warmed, and summer sea ice eroded, the walruses have begun coming ashore in record numbers on the Alaskan coast. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observed, and photographed, an estimated 35,000 walrus gathering during a recent aerial survey of arctic marine mammals.
More on the phenomenon from the Associated Press:
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. Unlike seals, walrus cannot swim indefinitely and must rest. They use their tusks to “haul out,” or pull themselves onto ice or rocks. As temperatures warm in summer, the edge of the sea ice recedes north. Females and their young ride the edge of the sea ice into the Chukchi Sea, the body of water north of the Bering Strait. In recent years, sea ice has receded north beyond shallow continental shelf waters and into Arctic Ocean water, where depths exceed 2 miles and walrus cannot dive to the bottom. Young animals are vulnerable to stampedes when a group gathers nearly shoulder-to-shoulder on a beach. Stampedes can be triggered by a polar bear, human hunter or low-flying airplane… Observers last week saw about 50 carcasses on the beach from animals that may have been killed in a stamped.