Walruses Swarm Beaches as Ice Melts

Thousands of walruses gathered recently on an island strip in Alaska, probably because of extreme ice melting, scientists say. Video.

Thousands of walruses gathered together in a dangerous "haul out" on the coast of Alaska earlier this month. Scientists say the walruses came ashore in such large numbers because their normal habitats, Arctic ice floes, are melting.

© 2010 National Geographic; video courtesy Daniel Zatz & USGS



Extreme ice melting led to thousands of walruses making an unusual gathering on a barrier island in Alaska.

Biologists with the USGS say the situation can be very dangerous because walruses are easily startled, and can stampede. Some walruses, particularly calves and juveniles, can get crushed to death by larger walruses moving about.

This aerial video, recorded for the United States Geological Survey, was taken from an altitude of 4,000 feet near Point Lay, Alaska. Because aircraft could prompt a stampede, there’s a no-fly zone: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asks aircraft to maintain a lateral distance of a half mile, and minimum altitude of 15-hundred feet.

Walruses forage on the sea floor and usually use sea ice as a resting platform between feedings.

This is the first time tens of thousands of walruses have been seen crowded together here, though similar sightings have been recorded in Russia and another area of northwestern Alaska in years past.

The WWF says Arctic sea ice is at the third lowest level in recorded history.

USGS is conducting more research to better understand the effects of the walrus haul-out and other changes related to climate change, and sea ice melt.