ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Oct. 1 (UPI) —
Hauling out is a technique most typically employed by biker gangs, fleeing the scene on their hogs in the aftermath of a bar fight, but it’s also a move occasionally made by walruses fed up with warming waters and the lack of sea ice.
Recently, 35,000 walruses decided they’d had enough of these uncomfortable conditions and subsequently hauled out onto a beach in Alaska. The so-called haul-out was witnessed by scientists and described in a recent NOAA report.
While flying in an observation plane, marine biologists with the Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals, a program run by the NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Laboratory, spotted the assembly of walruses on the beach of a barrier island near Point Lay, Alaska.
Walruses are forced to hightail it to dry land when the sea ice they normally use to rest between hunts begins to disappear. That’s been happening more frequently as ocean temperatures near the poles continue to rise.
"Not since records began has the region of the North Pacific Ocean been so warm for so long," a recent NOAA report said.
While the more immediate effects of climate change and melting ice caps may be slow to register in the lives of everyday people, scientists say they’re already being felt by marine mammals.
"We are witnessing a slow-motion catastrophe in the Arctic," Lou Leonard, the World Wildlife Fund’s vice president for climate change, said in a statement released last month. "As this ice dwindles, the Arctic will experience some of the most dramatic changes our generation has ever witnessed."
"This loss will impact the annual migration of wildlife through the region, threaten the long-term health of walrus and polar bear populations, and change the lives of those who rely on the Arctic ecosystem for their way of life," Leonard added.
Margaret Williams, managing director of WWF’s Arctic program, concurred.
"The massive concentration of walruses onshore — when they should be scattered broadly in ice-covered waters — is just one example of the impacts of climate change on the distribution of marine species in the Arctic," Williams said.