Melting Sea Ice Causes Record Gathering of 35,000 Walruses
Published October 3, 2014
Scientists recently spotted more than 35,000 female walruses and their babies huddled off the northwest coast of Alaska. But the record gathering of these adorable marine mammals, while an amazing sight to see, isn't good news for walruses.
Female walruses typically prefer giving birth to their young on floating chunks of ice. A warming planet is causing Arctic sea ice to melt and, as a result, walruses are being forced ashore.
Walruses spook easily—whether by a polar bear or an airplane flying by—and scientists worry that there could be a stampede within this tightly packed gathering, putting the younger, smaller walrus calves especially at risk.
Walruses like to play "follow the leader" and enjoy being around other walruses, which could explain why so many walruses end up gathering in one spot.
Similar large walrus gatherings—known as "haul outs"—have occurred in eight of the last ten years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Scientists predict the walruses will remain ashore for another two to four weeks and then return to the ocean once sea ice begins to form. Meanwhile, people are doing their best to keep boats and planes away and leave the walruses undisturbed.
Where in the world?
Photograph by John Sarvis, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service