Lacking ice, huge walrus herd congregates on Alaska shore

An estimated 35,000 animals have gathered to rest on dry land

gigantic herd of walruses

MADDING CROWD  A gigantic herd of walruses has hauled out on the beach near Point Lay, Alaska. The animals are taking to the beach due to the loss of their preferred haul out sites on sea ice.

Corey Accardo, NOAA Fisheries 

A gigantic group of walruses has gathered near Point Lay, Alaska, on the shore of the Chukchi Sea.

Scientists first observed the herd of Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) on September 13 and estimated the crowd contained about 10,000 animals. Since then, the group, known as a haul out, has waxed and waned, with as many as 35,000 animals observed on September 27. 

Joel Garlich-Miller, a walrus expert with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says that on the beach, the herd is exposed to predators such as polar bears and humans, and is easily disturbed by noise from low-flying aircraft. When spooked, the herd can stampede and may trample and kill calves.

The walruses are also many kilometers from their preferred feeding grounds, which they normally access from floating sea ice. Between bouts of searching the seafloor for food, the animals haul out on the ice to rest. Walruses normally venture onto dry land in spring, when females bear young. Males also haul out on shorelines in Russia during the fall.

But since 2007, walruses have periodically been forced to haul out along the North Shore of Alaska due to warming temperatures and decreasing summer sea ice. 

Bethany was previously the staff writer at Science News for Students. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

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