Wall of walrus: 35,000 come ashore in Alaska
What's the plural of walrus? Walrus.
Pacific walrus that can't find sea ice for resting in Arctic waters are coming ashore in record numbers on a beach in northwest Alaska.
An estimated 35,000 walrus were photographed Saturday about 5 miles north of Point Lay, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Point Lay is an Inupiat Eskimo village 700 miles northwest of Anchorage, Alaska.
The enormous gathering was spotted during NOAA's annual arctic marine mammal aerial survey.
Andrea Medeiros, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said walrus were first spotted Sept. 13. They have been moving on and off shore. Observers last week saw about 50 carcasses on the beach from animals that may have been killed in a stampede. The agency was assembling a team to determine their cause of death.
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. They 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 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. That's the body of water north of the Bering Strait.
In recent years, sea ice has receded north into Arctic Ocean water. Depths there exceed 2 miles and walrus cannot dive to the bottom.
Walrus in large numbers were first spotted on the U.S. side of the Chukchi Sea in 2007. They returned in 2009. In 2011, scientists estimated 30,000 walruses along 1 kilometer of beach near Point Lay.
Critical thinking challenge: Why are scientists seeing this phenomenon now, instead of a couple months ago?