No, it’s not the equivalent of spring break for walruses.And we doubt the marine mammals are having much fun.But some 10,000 of the creatures crammed onto a tiny stretch of Alaskan beach 700 miles northwest of Anchorage because, scientists say, global warming is melting away their usual habitats — ice floes.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released the stunning photo of an island in the Chukchi Sea, near Point Lay, showing the amazing scene.
The number grew dramatically last month. On Sept. 12, between 2,000 and 4,000 walruses were photographed on the island. Ten days later, the number of reportedly doubled. By the end of the month, scientists were estimating about 10,000 walruses along the kilometer-long beach.
The crowding brings with it tremendous risks. The slightest scare can send the herd scrambling for safety in stampedes that sometimes leave younger and more vulnerable members crushed to death.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken steps to prevent stampedes on the beach. The AP explains that the agency works with nearby villages to keep people and planes, which can cause stampedes, away from the scene.
Incredibly, 10,000 walruses crammed onto a small beach is small potatoes compared with the scene in 2011. Then, scientists observed a staggering 30,000 walruses on the beach, according to the NOAA.
The Los Angeles Times notes that the Pacific walrus is “not a small animal. It can weigh up to 3,700 pounds.”
The gathering of walruses has been tied to the warming climate. NOAA scientists have also found that the Chukchi Sea is now home to more gray whale calves than in past years.