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35K walruses 'haul out' on Alaskan beach

Walruses threatened by warming of Arctic sea

October 2, 2014

Arctic ice is dwindling, the waters of the North Pacific Ocean are the warmest on record and tens of thousands of walruses have taken notice, “hauling out” on an Alaskan beach in numbers never seen before.

The reason for the walrus gathering is bleak. The flippered marine mammals are changing their habits because of climate change, environmentalists say.

Photos taken by scientists working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show more than 35,000 walruses gathered, or hauled out, on a beach near the village of Point Lay, on the Chukchi Sea in northwest Alaska on Saturday.

Unlike other sea mammals, walruses must come onto land to rest, generally using sea ice to recharge. Dramatic temperature changes have altered the landscape, melting much of that sea ice and changing natural bodies in the Arctic.

“Not since records began has the region of the North Pacific Ocean been so warm for so long,” a recent NOAA report said.

While the more immediate effects of climate change and melting ice caps may be slow to register in the lives of everyday people, scientists say they’re already being felt by marine mammals.

“The massive concentration of walruses onshore- when they should be scattered broadly in ice-covered waters- is just one example of the impacts of climate change on the distribution of marine species in the Arctic,” Margaret Williams, the World Wildlife Fund’s managing director of the Arctic program, said in a statement.

“We are witnessing a slow-motion catastrophe in the Arctic,” Lou Leonard, the World Wildlife Fund’s vice president for climate change, said in a statement released last month. “As this ice dwindles, the Arctic will experience some of the most dramatic changes our generation has ever witnessed.”

“This loss will impact the annual migration of wildlife through the region, threaten the long-term health of walrus and polar bear populations and change the lives of those who rely on the Arctic ecosystem for their way of life,” Leonard added.

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