Adult female walruses rest on an ice flow with young walruses in the Eastern Chukchi Sea, Alaska. (S.A. Sonsthagen/U.S. Geological Survey via AP/Thinkstock)
Walruses come ashore on Alaska's northwest coast
September 04, 2015
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Pacific walruses have come ashore on the northwest coast of Alaska. The event has become an annual sign of the effects of climate change.
"There appears to be several thousand animals up there," said Andrea Medeiros. She is spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is in Anchorage.
Images of the walruses were captured by a photographer not connected with the agency near Point Lay. It is an Inupiat Eskimo village 700 miles northwest of Anchorage and 300 miles southwest of Barrow.
Walruses have been coming to shore on the U.S. side of the Chukchi Sea in large numbers for about eight years. They also come to shore on the Russian side.
Researchers say it's likely a result of less sea ice brought on by climate warming.
Walruses dive to feed on clams, sea snails and other food on the ocean bottom. But they cannot swim indefinitely.
Many male walruses never leave the Bering Sea. But females, especially mothers with pups, ride the edge of the sea ice as it moves north in summer. The ice moves through the Bering Strait and into the Arctic Ocean. They use sea ice as a platform. From the ice, they dive for food. Their pups rest on the ice.
In recent years, sea ice has receded north beyond shallow continental shelf waters. The ice covers water that exceeds 2 miles deep. It is beyond the diving range of an adult walrus.
Walruses 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.
Last year, an estimated 35,000 walruses were photographed. They were 5 miles north of Point Lay.
The agency and two others have issued an appeal to stay away from large gatherings of walruses that come ashore. Young animals are vulnerable to stampedes. They can occur when a group gathers nearly shoulder-to-shoulder on a beach.
Stampedes can be triggered by a polar bear, human or low-flying airplane.
With this year's low summer sea ice, it's not surprising to see walruses on shore looking for a place to rest. That is according to Margaret Williams of the World Wildlife Fund in Anchorage. The sharp decline of Arctic sea ice over the last decade is leading to major changes for wildlife and communities.
"Such extreme events are a stark reminder of the urgent need to ratchet down the emissions that are warming our planet," Williams said.
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why do walruses leave the water and come to shore or climb on ice?
Write your answers in the comments section below