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Tens of Thousands of Walruses Run Out of Sea Ice

Posted by feww on October 2, 2014

SCENARIOS 998, 900, 444, 222, 114, 04, 02, 01

Mass walrus haulout on Alaska shore as ice vanishes

The adult walruses, which can weigh about 1,225 kilograms, need sea ice as haulout platforms to rest, give birth, nurse and protect their young.

Pacific walruses have been hauling out on land in Alaska since 2006, as summer sea ice retreats, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

“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. 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.  To keep up with their normal resting periods between feeding bouts to the seafloor, walruses have simply hauled out onto shore,” said USGS.

Hauling out refers to the behavior associated with seals and walruses of temporarily leaving the water to gather on land or ice. Watch a video.

walruses in ak
About 35,000 walruses (~ 15 to 20 percent of the Pacific walrus population), hauled out on a beach in the Chukchi Sea near the village of Point Lay, Alaska, some 1130km (~ 700 miles) northwest of Anchorage because of lack of sea ice in this September 2014 photo taken by Corey Accardo / NOAA/NMFS/AFSC/NMML.

Onshore haulouts endangers female walruses and their calves, which can be trampled and killed during frequent stampedes.

Additionally, the walruses may be adversely affected hauling out on shore and using nearshore feeding areas, rather than their preferred behavior of using the ice as a haulout platform, on which to rest while remaining near rich feeding grounds, said USGS.

“One of the differences between this haul out and other ones is the sheer size and number of animals coming to shore,” said an ecologist with the USGS.

Arctic sea ice reached its minimum for the year on September 17, reported the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC). This year’s retreat was “the sixth lowest extent in the satellite record and reinforces the long-term downward trend in Arctic ice extent.”

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