By: Jodi Westrick
In a somewhat alarming sight, nearly 35,000 walruses have gathered onto Alaskan shores - the result of increasing global warming, according to The Washington Post.
In previous years, walruses would typically navigate north as the sea ice melted and then head south again when it returned. The sea ice serves as a refuge for the walrus, who need considerable rest time between diving deep to the sea floor for food. However, in 2007, the sea ice did not form - which lead to the walruses having to take refuge on Alaskan shores.
Although it is a sight to behold - walrus are quite comical looking with their wrinkles and large tusks - it is actually fairly dangerous for the animals. Close quarters means disease spreads quickly, food runs out, animals such as brown and polar bears are nearby, and a slight disturbance can lead to a stampede.
As Margaret Williams, managing director for the World Wildlife Fund's Arctic program, told the Guardian, "It becomes like a giant pig pile. You have all these animals that are normally distributed on a flat surface. When they lose their sea ice habitat and come ashore in places that are accessible – like flat, sandy beaches – they gather in large numbers. … When they are disturbed it can cause stampedes in large numbers."
So what can be done to help these animals? According to the Post, "Short of immediately reversing global warming, scientists in the Arctic can only do damage control." The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed adding the Pacific walrus to the endangered species list and the Federal Aviation Administration has asked that flights not fly through the area as walrus are skittish and the disturbance could cause a stampede.
Learn more about the arctic and what the WWF is doing to help here.