10K Walruses Huddle as Sea Ice Melts
Arctic warming has taken away their natural home
By Neal Colgrass, Newser Staff
Posted Oct 3, 2013 6:35 PM CDT
Pacific walruses at Cape Peirce, Alaska.   (Wikimedia Commons)

(Newser) – A sad sight in the Arctic: About 10,000 Pacific walruses have gathered on a remote island because their sea ice is melting away, National Geographic reports. Typically the giant mammals enjoy "hauling out" to rest or warm their bodies on floating ice, but Arctic warming has been eroding sea ice cover for years. In fact, scientists have noted such walrus gatherings since 2007, including one two years ago in which 30,000 walruses crammed onto a beach less than a mile long.

Worse, the Pacific walrus population is shrinking and may be raised from "threatened" to "endangered" under the US Endangered Species Act, according to senior veterinarian Pam Tuomi. The mass haulouts are dangerous, too, as disease can ripple through the group or a low-flying plane can spark a mass stampede that leaves some—especially younger ones—trampled to death. "It's like yelling fire at a movie theater," Tuomi said. (See why the feds say Pacific walruses won't get the protection they deserve.)