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Huge gathering or Pacific walruses in Alaska beach because of climate change

Sunday, October 5th 2014 - 10:05 UTC
Full article 3 comments
NOAA photographed the gathering, known as a haul-out, north of the village of Point Lay over the weekend. NOAA photographed the gathering, known as a haul-out, north of the village of Point Lay over the weekend.

Scientists have photographed the largest gathering of Pacific walruses ever recorded, on a beach in northern Alaska, blaming climate change for the estimated 35,000 females and calves huddled beside the Chukchi Sea.

 US federal biologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, photographed the gathering, known as a haul-out, north of the village of Point Lay over the weekend.

It's hardly the first big walrus gathering to be documented, a fact noted by climate change skeptics. But scientists say the size of the gatherings are growing as climate change melts Arctic sea ice, depriving walruses of their sunning platforms of choice.

“The walruses are hauling out on land in a spectacle that has become all too common in six of the last eight years as a consequence of climate-induced warming,” the US Geological Survey wrote on their website.

“Summer sea ice is retreating far north of the shallow continental shelf waters of the Chukchi Sea in U.S. and Russian waters, a condition that did not occur a decade ago,” the USGS website says. “To keep up with their normal resting periods between feeding bouts to the seafloor, walruses have simply hauled out onto shore.”

As the ocean heats up due to global warming, Arctic sea ice has been locked in a downward spiral. Since the late 1970s, the ice has retreated by 12% per decade, worsening after 2007 according to NASA.

Walruses were first spotted coming ashore in large numbers in 2007. In 2009, an estimated 3,000 walruses were seen; the number rose to 30,000 in 2011 and went back down to 10,000 in 2013.

Scientists have seen large haul-outs on the Russian side of the Bering Strait for quite some time, says Anthony Fischbach, a wildlife biologist at the USGS in Anchorage. But since the first recordings of walrus gatherings in Alaska in the 1870s, groups of this size weren't observed until 2007, he said.

May 2014 represented the third lowest extent of sea ice during that month in the satellite record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

“Being in Alaska, climate change is very apparent,” said Lori Polaesk, a marine biologist at the Alaska SeaLife Center, a research and wildlife rehabilitation facility in Seward. “That's the reason why we have lost summer Arctic ice.”

Categories: Environment, International.

Top Comments

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  • ilsen

    I don't think it is global warming for the reason that they have fled the South Pacific. ..
    :)

    Oct 05th, 2014 - 09:01 pm 0
  • DennisA

    This is such desperate nonsense from people on the public dollar, who clearly never do any proper research, or they would never make these ridiculous claims.

    Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary: Best known among the Walrus Islands is Round Island, where each summer large numbers of male walruses haul out on exposed, rocky beaches. Round Island is one of four major terrestrial haulouts in Alaska; the others are Capes Peirce (Togiak NWR), Newenham (Togiak NWR), and Seniavin (near Port Moller).

    Walrus return to these haulouts every spring as the ice pack recedes northward, remaining hauled out on the beach for several days between each feeding foray. Up to 14,000 walrus have been counted on Round Island in a single day. However, the number of walrus using the island fluctuates significantly from year to year. The peak count for all of 1998 was only 1,746 walrus.

    Walruses spend about half their time in the water and half their time on beaches or ice floes where they gather in large herds.

    http://www.carc.org/pubs/v15no5/5.htm
    “By about 7000 years ago the massive glaciers of the last Ice Age had retreated to the mountain peaks of the eastern Canadian Arctic. Tundra vegetation had become established, and was grazed by caribou, musk oxen, and, in some areas, by bison. The gulfs and channels between the arctic islands had long been at least seasonally ice-free, and provided a home to populations of seals, walrus, and whales.

    There is considerable evidence that for the next 3500 years the arctic climate was noticeably warmer than today, the tree-line was north of its present position, sea ice was less extensive, and animal populations were large and well established.”

    Ah well........

    Oct 06th, 2014 - 09:52 am 0
  • GeoffWard2

    I guess those changes some thousands of years ago must be what we call 'non-anthropogenic' global warmings,
    however, add the other kind to them and we get what we have today .. much faster, much harsher .. and, essentially irreversible.

    Oct 06th, 2014 - 11:00 am 0
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