Friday, October 03, 2014

CLIMAGE CHANGE - What 35,000 Walruses Are Telling Us

"Largest number of walruses seen ashore in Alaska is sign of ‘tremendous change’" PBS NewsHour 10/2/2014


JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  When it comes to animal pictures going viral on the Web, the homely walrus hasn’t been at the top of the list, but put 35,000 walruses together on a beach in Alaska, and that’s a different story.

These images, the largest gathering of Pacific walruses ever recorded, has indeed done just that.  These walruses have been the stars of the Internet.  The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spotted them last weekend during its annual survey of marine mammals.

The location is near Point Lay, Alaska, on the shores of the Chukchi Sea.  Scientists say a loss of sea ice is a big part of the reason the walruses are hauling out.  That’s the term used to describe their moving on to land.

Margaret Williams is a managing director of the Arctic Program for the World Wildlife Fund, and she joins me now.

Welcome to the NewsHour.

MARGARET WILLIAMS, World Wildlife Fund:  Hi, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So why are the walruses doing this?  What’s going on?

MARGARET WILLIAMS:  Well, walruses are one of the many species in the Arctic that are highly dependent on the Arctic sea ice.

So the mothers raise their calves on the sea ice.  They use — these animals use the sea ice as a platform from which to dive to reach their food.  Walruses like the eat clams and shellfish.  And when the sea ice melts, as it is right now, they have to go somewhere to rest and to reach their food.

So they’re coming ashore in large numbers.  And the sea ice is melting so rapidly.  It’s melting earlier in the summer and later every — and forming later in the spring.  So the Arctic sea ice is changing dramatically.

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