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Nature & Environment Ten Thousand Pacific Walruses Gather Near Alaska's Northwest Coast Due to Sea Ice Loss

Ten Thousand Pacific Walruses Gather Near Alaska's Northwest Coast Due to Sea Ice Loss

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First Posted: Oct 03, 2013 09:00 AM EDT
 Ten Thousand Pacific Walruses Gather on Island  on Alaska's Northwest Coast Due to Sea Ice Loss
Ten Thousand Pacific Walruses Gather on Island on Alaska's Northwest Coast Due to Sea Ice Loss (Photo : NOAA Fisheries)

Thousands of Pacific walruses were spotted hauling out of the ocean on a remote barrier island in the Chukchi Sea.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries scientists captured the event while working on this year's annual Aerial Survey of Arctic Marine Mammals project in Alaska. According to their rough estimations, there were over 10,000 walruses that came ashore on Alaska's northwest coast.

Aerial observations made on September 12, indicated that there were close to 1,200-4,000 walruses on the island in the Chukchi Sea, which is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean.  The number of walruses suddenly soared to 8,000 on September 22. Latest observation made on September 27 claims that there are approximately 10,000 walruses.

A similar trend was noticed in the year 2011 when nearly 30,000 walruses were seen ashore on a one kilometer beach near Pt.Lay.

"Large walrus haulouts along the Alaskan coasts in the north-eastern Chukchi Sea are a relatively new phenomenon. NOAA's research doesn't typically extend to studying walruses, since this is a species managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), so you can imagine how exciting it was for us to be able to collect such valuable data for our partner agencies," Megan Ferguson, marine mammal scientist with NOAA Fisheries, said in a press statement.

Researchers have linked these walrus-gatherings to the loss of sea ice due to global warming. The first Arctic Sea haul was observed in 2007 on the coast of the Chukchi Sea when the sea ice level was relatively low. The team again returned to the same site in 2009 and 2011.

Reduction in sea-ice forces these marine mammals to gather on the beach. Being on a small island with thousands of walruses means lower chances of getting any food and higher chances of getting killed in a stampede, especially for young calves.

"....scientists and coastal communities use walrus haulout information to establish and adapt protection measures to minimize disturbances from aircraft overflights and ship traffic. The coastal surveys also provide valuable baseline information about important coastal habitats for walruses, which can be used to evaluate and mitigate potential impacts of proposed projects in the Chukchi Sea region," Joel Garlich-Miller, Wildlife Biologist with the USFWS concluded.

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