This extraordinary picture from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has many scientists worried as the latest sign of climate change. These are estimated 35,000 pacific walrus ashore on a beach in north-west Alaska. As mammals, walrus cannot swim indefinitely so they use their tusks to “haul out,” or pull themselves onto an ice floe or rocks. However, the loss of sea ice has left them effectively stranded.
The photo was taken five miles north of Point Lay, an Inupiat Eskimo village 300 miles southwest of Barrow and 700 miles northwest of Anchorage. It was taken on September 27th as researchers traced walrus. Female walrus give birth on sea ice and use ice as a diving platform to reach snails, clams and worms on the shallow continental shelf.
As temperatures warm in summer, the edge of the sea ice recedes north. Females and their offspring ride the edge of the sea ice into the Chukchi Sea. However, sea ice has receded now beyond shallow continental shelf waters and into Arctic Ocean water. The problem is that depths at that location exceeds two miles — a depth that walrus cannot dive to the bottom.
The World Wildlife Fund’s head of Arctic programs Margaret Williams says that the gathering show extreme environmental changes occurring wit the loss of sea ice. The comparison is with the plight of polar bears in the changing Arctic.