Thousands of walruses are gathered together on one of the last places they have to rest in Alaska — the shore. As the ice they typically rely on for respite between hunts has all but disappeared, the giant animals are clambering to the coast in record numbers.
According to the most recent estimate from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, roughly 5,000 to 6,000 walruses were gathered on the shore this weekend, the Washington Post reports.
Last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) photographed a gathering of 35,000 of the mammals five miles north of Point Lay, an Inupiat Eskimo village 700 miles northwest of Anchorage.
The retreat of the Alaskan sea ice north into Arctic Ocean water has accelerated in recent years. It’s bad news for the Pacific walruses, which rely on it for everything from giving birth to diving down to reach the food below.
The huge mammals have been seen gathering in large groups on the Russian side of the Chukchi Sea since 2007. The walruses came back again in 2009, and again in 2011, when scientists counted some 30,000 of the animals along a half-mile stretch of beach near Point Lay.
“It’s another remarkable sign of the dramatic environmental conditions changing as the result of sea ice loss,” Margaret Williams, managing director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Arctic program, told The Guardian.
At least 1,500 walruses gathered in recent weeks on the northwest coast of Alaska.
Pacific walruses in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska.
Thousands of walruses hauled out of the sea on a remote barrier island in the Chukchi Sea near Point Lay in 2014. The Pacific walruses have gone ashore on Alaska’s northwest coast and are bunched along a beach near the village of Point Lay. Early on Sept. 12, the National Marine Fisheries Service counted 1,500 to 4,000 walruses. Nearly 10,000 had assembled by the end of the day.