USGS Confirms Thousands of Walruses Hauling-Out on Alaska's Northwest Coast as Sea Ice Rapidly Retreats

Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN) reported on Thursday (2 Sep 2010) that "for only the third time in human memory, walruses have started to congregate in large numbers on Alaska’s Northwest coast. Earlier this week, the animals began hauling out on shore, after the sea ice they depend on for foraging disappeared."  Listen to the APRN report, Walruses Gathering on Alaska’s Northwest Coast (or Download Audio [MP3]).

We reported last Monday (30 Aug 2010) that an animated map from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), showing the daily locations of tagged walruses and sea ice distribution in the Chukchi sea, indicated that walruses were increasingly moving from offshore locations to "haul outs" along the Alaska shoreline as sea ice disappeared from the area.  (see Walruses Again Being Forced Ashore as Arctic Sea Ice Retreats).

According to the APRN report, overflights confirmed that large numbers of walruses were hauling-out along the Alaska shoreline.  Chad Jay, a research scientist with the USGS in Anchorage said "it's going on full force right now. "  Exact counts are not available, but Jay estimated that thousands already had gathered.  A lot of them are females with their young.

Arctic sea ice extent still is declining and presently is at the third lowest level ever recorded, behind only 2007 and 2008.  The retreat of sea ice is most pronounced in the Chukchi Sea, located north of the Bering Strait.  Jay said:  "The Sea Ice over the Chukchi Sea shelf has all disappeared now, even the very small remnant ice that walruses can use to stay offshore.  That has disappeared too.  So they're basically looking for a place to haul out now."

Jay said that declining sea ice in 2007 and 2009 similarly forced the walruses ashore.  See Walrus Populations Threatened by Climate Change, our posting from September 2009.

Below: In what she modestly calls a "doodle," talented writer and illustrator Karen Romano Young captures the plight of the Pacific Walrus as it faces a decline in vital Arctic sea ice. 

Pacific Walrus "Doodle" by Karen Romano Young.  Click on image for larger version.
(Click on image for larger version)

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For more on walruses, climate change and Arctic sea ice, see the following from our climate change blog:

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