Melting sea ice sends hordes of walruses piling up onshore
Sunday, September 13, 2015, 5:00 PM - It's been roughly a year since hordes of walruses overcrowded the shores of Alaska because there wasn't enough sea ice to sustain them.
And this year, they're back earlier than ever.
Once again, tens of thousands of the large beasts have gathered ashore because they have nowhere else to go, due to a significant loss of Arctic ice caused by rising global temperatures.
The spectacle that sees the ocean creatures migrate to land towards the end of summer is referred to as a haul-out. The flippered mammals, particularly females and their young, rely on ice floes as a place for resting and hunting during the summer months -- but without it, they are forced to travel far distances and hunt from shore.
On August 23, photographer Gary Braach captured images of the migration, making this the earliest haul out on record since the event was first observed along the Alaskan and Russian coasts of the Chukchi Sea in 2007, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The huge sea mammals and young began coming up on this barrier island along Kasegaluk Lagoon about August 20, according to local natives, after sea ice in the northern Chukchi Sea melted entirely again this summer.
Last year, the annual haul out made headlines when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released photos of a record 35,000 walruses crammed on a beach.
Overcrowding has a detrimental effect on the walrus population, increasing the risk for stampeding and subsequent death. In 2014, about 60 young calves were fatally trampled.
During 2008 and 2012, walruses did not come ashore in Alaska, because sparse remnants of sea ice persisted over the continental shelf in the deep waters of the Arctic Basin both years.
The ice-free period in the Chukchi Sea is currently about a month long. However, global climate models suggest the ice-free period could become as long as four or five months by the end of the century if rising global temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.
Source: U.S. Geological Survey
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