- Date: August 18, 2017
Walrus spend most of their time on sea ice. They migrate with moving ice floes and need ice for rest between dives for food. But when summer sea ice shrinks, walrus are forced to swim to land for refuge.
As thousands of walrus come ashore, they congregate in large groups known as “haulouts.” These mass gatherings are dangerous and even deadly for the animals. Nearby food sources may be quickly exhausted. As walrus are easily spooked—by humans, vehicles or even small animals—they can trample one another in a stampede to the sea. Tragically, many walruses, particularly young calves, will die in the stampede.
Shrinking sea ice
This month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that walruses have been spotted in early August near the village of Point Lay, Alaska on the Chukchi Sea. This marks the earliest known haulout for the walruses and signifies the ever-growing impact of receding Arctic sea ice.
Climate change means sea ice is retreating earlier than in years past. Summer sea ice is moving north where waters are too deep for the walrus to successfully dive and feed. When the animals come ashore, they are farther away from their best feeding grounds and must make long commutes—up to 250 miles round trip—that are not possible for young calves.
While the number of walrus in this year’s haul out is not yet known—they will continue to come ashore through early fall—past years have seen haul out numbers of more than 35,000 walrus.
What can be done
Residents of Point Lay rally to protect the walrus—which are an important cultural, nutritional, and economic resource for the community —by taking measures to keep them undisturbed, such as strictly limiting access to the haul-out area.
But climate change remains the greatest threat to the walrus. Without action on the issue, sea ice will continue to shrink and the risk to walrus will continue to grow.