As sea ice retreats, village copes with tens of thousands of walruses

Point Lay, Alaska (WWF) – As Arctic sea ice reaches the fourth lowest extent on record, stunning photos from Alaska’s Arctic coast again show tens of thousands of walruses gathered on shore near the community of Point Lay.

This year’s gathering is estimated at 35,000 walruses, roughly the same as last year. Photos from late August show a large group, or “haul out”, of about 5,000 walruses on Russia’s shores as well.

The village of Point Lay is working to protect the herd from disturbance, as walruses hauled out in such large numbers on beaches are prone to stampeding, killing smaller animals in the crush. This photo was taken from a distance on a carefully conducted scientific survey, to avoid frightening the animals.

During the late summer and early fall, Pacific walruses of the Chukchi sea north of Alaska and of Chukotka in Russia prefer to rest on sea ice over the shallow waters of the continental shelf, where they can readily access food on the seabed. In recent years, however, there has been no sea ice over the walruses’ preferred shallow feeding areas. Thousands have been forced ashore, where they must expend far more energy to find food.

As sea ice continues to decline in the Arctic due to global climate change, walruses will have to spend longer periods on land – a trend that poses a long-term threat to the walruses and other species that depend on ice, like polar bears.

WWF is advocating for a global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a move to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050, and for policies that help Arctic communities and wildlife cope with the consequences of climate disruption.

“This will be a watershed year in climate history as we are on track to experience the warmest year ever recorded”, says Samantha Smith, leader of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative.

Walruses Image Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Image Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

“Climate change won’t stop at the Arctic Circle. So world leaders, who will gather in Paris in December to conclude a new global climate deal, must take note of the climate records that have been broken every month this year so far and have the courage to change climate change. Because unless we make dramatic cuts in polluting gases, we will end up with a climate that is unrecognizable, unpredictable, and damaging for natural systems and people,” she says.

This report was prepared by the WWF.