Earlier this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released disturbing photos of more than 30,000 walruses crowded on shore near Point Lay, an Inuit village 700 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska. The walruses were forced on land because the patches of sea ice on which they normally rest have melted.
While ice patches would normally see some decline during the summer months, mid-September’s annual minimum was the sixth-lowest ever recorded.
“The summer started off relatively cool, and lacked the big storms or persistent winds that can break up ice and increase melting,” said Walter Meier, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “Even with a relatively cool year, the ice is so much thinner than it used to be. It is more susceptible to melting.”
The overcrowding on the beach has already resulted in about 50 dead walruses, believed by scientists to have been trampled to death during stampedes. The beach is not the walruses’ normal feeding ground, and with that many in such a small area, food is likely to become scarce.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service lists Pacific walruses as a candidate for the Endangered Species list, and currently protects the species “under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits the take (i.e., harrass, hunt, capture, or kill) of all marine mammals.”
According to the Associated Press, the World Wildlife Fund said that walruses have also been gathering on the Russian side of the Chukchi Sea.
“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 group’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 of causes of climate change.”
The herds of walruses stranded on the Alaskan beach are another in a long list of examples of how man-made climate change is destroying the planet. If something isn’t done, and soon, more and more species will lose their habitats and food sources, and eventually go extinct.