35,000 Walrus Converge On Alaska Beach As Sea Ice Retreats

In this aerial photo taken on Sept. 27, 2014, and provided by NOAA, some 35,000 walrus gather on shore near Point Lay, Alaska. Pacific walrus looking for places to rest in the absence of sea ice are coming to shore in record numbers on Alaska’s northwest coast. CREDIT: AP/ NOAA

By Ari Phillips

An estimated 35,000 walrus have come ashore in record numbers on a beach in northwest Alaska for lack of better ground. As climate change warms the atmosphere, summer sea ice in the Arctic is diminishing, likely stranding these walrus from their preferred sea ice outposts. Arctic sea ice reached its lowest point this year in mid-September, and NASA reported it to be the sixth-lowest recorded since 1978.

The mass gathering of walrus was spotted on Saturday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s arctic marine mammal aerial survey. Andrea Medeiros, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said walrus were first spotted on September 13 and have been moving on and off shore. Last week, around 50 walrus carcasses were spotted on the beach, the cause of death may have been a stampede. Unlike seals, walrus need breaks from swimming and tend to gather in groups.

“It’s another remarkable sign of the dramatic environmental conditions changing as the result of sea ice loss,” said Margaret Williams, managing director of the WWF’s Arctic program. “The walruses are telling us what the polar bears have told us and what many indigenous people have told us in the high Arctic, 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 causes of climate change.”

In this aerial photo taken on Sept. 23, 2014 and released by NOAA, some 1500 walrus are gather on the northwest coast of Alaska. CREDIT: AP/NOAA

The walrus are gathered at Point Lay, an Inupiat village 700 miles north-west of Anchorage on the Chukchi Sea. Walrus were first spotted in large numbers in the U.S. side of the Chukchi Sea in 2007, returning again in 2009, The Guardian reported. In 2011, it was estimated that 30,000 of the animals appeared along a nearby stretch of beach.

This year’s minimum Arctic sea ice was 622,000 square miles above the record low for the satellite era — since 1978 — which occurred in September 2012, according to data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. It was 463,000 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 average minimum.