Thousands of walruses are congregating on Alaska's northwest coast, a sign that their Arctic sea ice environment has been altered by climate change.
Chad Jay, a U.S. Geological Survey walrus researcher, said that about 3,500 walruses were near Icy Cape on the Chukchi Sea, some 140 miles southwest of Barrow. Animals the agency tagged with satellite transmitters also were detected on shore at Cape Lisburne about 150 miles farther down the coast.
Walruses for years came ashore intermittently during their fall southward migration but not so early and not in such numbers.
"This is actually all new," Jay said. "They did this in 2007, and it's a result of the sea ice retreating off the continental shelf." Federal managers and researchers say walruses hauling out on shore could lead to deadly stampedes and too much pressure on prey within swimming range. Projections of continued sea ice loss means the phenomenon likely is not going away.
"It's more of the same," Jay said. "What we've been seeing over the past few years with reduced sea ice conditions, we might be seeing this more and more often, and it's probably not good for the walruses," he said. More