The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has asked aircraft to avoid flying too close to a group of about 35,000 walrus gathered on an Alaskan beach. Pilots have been asked to fly no lower than 2000 feet in the vicinity of the beached walrus, to avoid triggering a stampede.
Walrus usually gather on floating sea ice to rest from hunting, which is known as “hauling out.” But as ice disappears due to climate change, large groups of the animals are increasingly found on land. However, hauling out on land makes the groups more vulnerable to stampeding, which can lead to the death of young or smaller walrus.
Human disturbances can result in trampling-related mortality says a statement on the FWS Alaska Region website. “The Native Village of Point Lay respectfully requests that people do not attempt to visit the haulout site at this delicate time.”
This location on the Chukchi Sea, just north of Point Lay, has attracted several thousand animals in past years as sea ice retreats. Researchers observing the animals from the air have been careful to not get too close according to MSN.
"We make sure that when we do surveys we are far enough from the shore," said FWS walrus researcher Joel Garlich.