Pacific walrus are looking for sea ice in Arctic waters and finding that available ice is now much harder to come by. The walrus seek the sea ice to rest on. When they cannot find sea ice, they take the next best thing – an empty beach. In the photo above, an estimated 35,000 walrus beached themselves on a beach north of Point Lay in Alaska (just north-west of Anchorage) after being unable to find an ice sheet to rest upon.
Pacific walrus spend winters in the Bering Sea. Unlike seals, walrus cannot swim indefinitely and must rest. The female walrus also uses the sea ice as a platform to give birth on and as a “home base” as they search for snails, clams, and worms for their young. They use their tusks to pull themselves up onto the ice shelf.
Climate change has shrunk vast areas of ice in the Artic. This month, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported Artic ice coverage was the sixth-lowest since records began in 1979. One scientist told reporters:
“The walruses are telling us what the polar bears have told us and what many indigenous people have told us in the high Arctic, and that is that the Arctic environment is changing extremely rapidly and it is time for the rest of the world to take notice and also to take action to address the root causes of climate change.”