Dramatic Footage Shows Consequences for Walruses as Arctic Warms

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As walruses are forced to abandon receding sea ice, they congregate in unprecedented numbers along the shore of the Chukchi Sea.  Young walruses who make it to the coast face dangerous and sometimes deadly conditions.  Rare WWF footage captures a vast walrus "haul out" along the Russian coast; and the tragic consequences of a walrus stampede on Alaska's Icy Cape.

A video recorded on 21 September shows some of the more than 100 walrus carcasses that were spotted on September 14 by US Geological Survey (USGS) researchers flying near Icy Cape, southwest of Barrow, Alaska. That was just two days after the third lowest Arctic sea ice minimum on record.  According to the preliminary government report, a total of 131 carcasses, mostly calves and yearlings, were found. The report’s conclusion was that “the cause of death was consistent with trampling by other walruses.”  Days prior to that sighting, a massive heard of walruses was seen congregated on the shore.

“With the rapid melting of Arctic sea ice due to climate change, walruses are losing their habitats and are being forced to congregate on land in massive numbers, often in the thousands” said Geoff York, WWF’s lead Arctic species biologist. “This is a very dangerous situation as it can lead to stampedes and the trampling of walruses. As is evidenced by the Icy Cape situation, young walruses are particularly vulnerable.”

“It is clear: were it not for the dramatic decline in the sea ice, the young walruses at Icy Cape most likely would be alive on the ice and not dead on a beach. These alarming conditions do not just raise concerns about the fate of iconic species such as walruses and polar bears—our own future is at stake,” says York. 

On 4 September, York was on the Russian coast of the Chukchi Sea where a vast herd of an estimated 20,000 walruses had congregated.  Footage from that "haul out" dramatically illustrates the massive disruption that is moving through Arctic ecosystems as climate change warms the region and melts away the sea ice.  The footage includes a stampede scene that hints at what appears to have occurred at Icy Cape in Alaska. 

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