Walruses have become stranded in the Arctic. Due to the Arctic sea ice this year being in the ‘top 10’ of the small extents recorded, the walruses have been forced to come to shore on a remote island in Alaska. The extreme loss of the Arctic sea ice is the result of climate change. The lack of sea ice means there is no place for the walruses to rest and feed on, so they have been forced to come ashore and risk stampedes and death. “Walruses often flee haulouts in response to the sight, sound, or odor of humans or machines. Walruses are particularly sensitive to changes in engine noise and are more likely to stampede off beaches when planes turn or fly low overhead,” Andrea Medeiros, a spokeswoman for the fish and wildlife service.
“Last year, it was estimated that 60 young walruses were killed because of the sheer number of animals gathered together,” said the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Geological Survey. “Ice floes provide protection from predators, allow walrus to haul out in smaller groups and provide easy access to feeding areas below.”
However, this is not the only occurrence of this forced exodus. Since 2000, walruses and their young have been driven to migrate to barrier islands such as Point Lay in Alaska – known as a “haul out” – year on year, according to US government scientists. Last year, as many as 40,000 animals, mainly females and their young, were forced ashore. This result in aircraft routes being diverted to try to prevent stampedes.
“We do not believe that these sorts of visits are in the best interest of the walruses and they do not align with the haul out protection role we have developed and measures we set in place to prevent disturbances,” Leo Ferreira III, the Point Lay tribal president said in a statement distributed by US government agencies.
It has been predicted that the Arctic could reach a devastating point of being ice-free by 2030. The Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world. According to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment’s 2004 report, Impacts of a Warming Arctic, the loss of sea ice will result changes to species ranges and availability as well as reduced access to various species because of unsafe ice. These changes will result in a number of serious challenges to indigenous communities such as health, food security, and possibly the survival of some cultures. The implications for indigenous people and the wildlife is insurmountable.
Although the longer open water season in the Arctic is creating opportunities for shipping, tourism, energy production and other human activities in this remote region, it is also resulting in significant ecological changes.
President Obama is to arrive Monday in Anchorage to begin a three-day visit focusing on climate change and its effects in the Arctic, which include melting glaciers and sea ice, thawing permafrost, sea-level rise and their corresponding threats to people and wildlife.