Walruses Forced Ashore By Melting Ice: What’s the Impact?

from Wildlife Promise

Spitsbergen, augustus 2008

Today’s proof of global warming’s continuing impact on people & wildlife:

Tens of thousands of walruses have come ashore in northwest Alaska because the sea ice they normally rest on has melted.

U.S. government scientists say this massive move to shore by walruses is unusual in the United States. But it has happened at least twice before, in 2007 and 2009. In those years Arctic sea ice also was at or near record low levels.

The walruses “stretch out for one mile or more. This is just packed shoulder-to-shoulder,” U.S. Geological Survey biologist Anthony Fischbach said in a telephone interview from Alaska. He estimated their number at tens of thousands.

Dr. Doug Inkley, the National Wildlife Federations senior scientist, told me the walrus migration is “a direct result of climate change.” Doug says forcing the marine mammals to huddle on land increases the danger factor. “These walruses now have to forage further for food, and are at risk of being trampled should the herd be spooked & stampede.”

These animals are symbols of what is happening to wildlife all around the world,” says NWF’s John Kostyack. “Although most movements in response to climate change are more subtle, wildlife are on the move virtually everywhere across the globe, and there are significant survival risks associated with many of these climate-related disruptions.”

What kind of habitat do walruses need? What do they eat? Learn more over at NWF’s Ranger Rick.

Photo via Flickr’s marthaenpiet