Thousands of walrus were spotted on a beach in northwest Alaska during a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) survey of arctic marine mammals. Photographed by plane, an estimated 35,000 walrus were gathered on the shore, about 5 miles from the Inupiat village of Point Lay. The photos were taken on September 27.
It’s normal for pods of walrus to rest on floating sea ice, but as sea ice continues to disappear, these mammals are forced to seek respite on land. Last month, arctic sea ice covered the sixth smallest area ever recorded.
Resting on the land instead of ice may be an indication that walrus are able to adapt to a lack of sea ice, but researchers are unsure. On land, young walrus are vulnerable to being trampled in stampedes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. About 50 carcasses were observed at the site, but it’s unclear if the animals died in a stampede.
Hauling out on land may also make it harder for the animals to get back into the water, thus requiring them to expend more energy than diving off floating ice. Walrus females may also give birth on sea ice.
The annual survey, called the Aerial Survey of Arctic Marine Mammals uses aircraft to track the number, distribution and migration of a number of key marine animals. The survey is conducted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is also responsible for leasing and managing off-shore drilling for oil and gas. A large group of about 10,000 walrus were observed near Point Lay last September, according to the 2013 report.
“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 causes of climate change,” Margaret Williams, managing director at the World Wildlife Fund, told the AP.