Mass Alaskan Exodus of 10-20K Walruses–Evidence of Climate Change or Do They Fear a Palin “Reload”? (Photo)

Filed in Gather News Channel by on September 13, 2010 0 Comments

Massive mammal mamas–and we’re not talking grizzly bears, here–and their blubbery babies are basking on the beaches of a pristine Alaskan village. Some 10,000 to 20,000 are on land and an estimated 80,000 are just offshore. All’s well in Walrus World, right?

Wrong. Unfortunately, as it turns out, probably dead wrong.

In a phenomenon first reported by the Alaska Dispatch on Saturday, from 10,000 to 20,000 mother walruses and their calves are taking to the land a few miles down the coast from the bucolic burg of Point Lay, Alaska.

These weighty mammals (believed to be mainly Pacific walrus, or Odobenus rosmarus divergens) are now “congregating in tightly packed herds on the Alaskan side of the Chukchi Sea, in the first such [known] exodus of its kind” (The Guardian).

Leo Ferreira, mayor of that picturesque village, theorizes that ocean traffic is driving the walruses off their ice floes and onto shore (Alaska Dispatch).

Scientists, however, have a more sinister and fact-based theory about the mass walrus migration onto land: planetary climate change, or anthropogenic global warming, if you will.

Arctic Sea Ice at Third-Lowest Level in Recorded History

The wildlife charity World Wildlife Fund offers a recent history of the mass walrus exodus:

“On 30 August we first noted evidence that walruses were being forced ashore as sea-ice disappeared from the Chukchi. …  Arctic sea ice continued to decline and by Friday 3 September had dropped to the third lowest extent on record.”

The mass Pacific walrus diaspora from sea (or shrinking ice floes) onto land, widely dubbed a haulout, is so unusual and disconcerting because of the location and the sheer numbers.

A walrus haulout of this magnitude has been witnessed in Russia, but nothing this large has ever been seen on the Alaska side of these creatures’ migratory corridor according to Alaska Dispatch.

Naturally, researchers are on the prowl for causation. Alaska, besides being pristine in some locations still and seemingly remote, has been made prominent in recent years by a certain “loaded” politician who often flounders off half-cocked in toothless efforts to rally mama grizzlies and others against the fact-based data that climate change is occurring here and now and must be addressed.

One only wonders if Sarah smiles at the latest slap in the face to her illogical global warming naysayism. Do you think she might even tweet a refudiation of some sort?

U.S. Geological Survey Researchers Are Continuing to Track Walruses

Scientists with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) are “particularly interested in how much more swimming the hauled-out walruses, most of which are females, will have to do to find food and how that extra effort will affect the animals’ health. They’re also worried about how young walruses … will fare” (Alaska Dispatch).

Using satellite tagging devices, the scientists hope to make sense of this unusual haulout of a suspected 10,000 to 20,000 of these walruses, believed to be mostly Odobenus rosmarus divergens, or Pacific walrus. Disconcertingly, there may be more of these walruses waiting in the wings, as it were, just offshore.

Locals Don’t Want Repeat of Last Summer When Calves Were Trampled to Death

In tiny Point Lay, where some 234 human souls make their homes, residents are understandably worried (Alaska Dispatch).

They don’t want a repeat of last summer, when approximately 130 of the blubbery behemoths, mainly calves, were trampled to death as the herd attempted to find food (Guardian).

According to a USGS report, in 2007 and 2009, hundreds of walruses in Alaska and thousands in Russia met such stunning, unfortunate fates.

This situation both boggles the mind and crushes one’s heart and hopes.

Furthermore, because only about 20% of walruses generally come to shore, scientists have posited that another 80,000 walruses could be swimming nearby (Alaska Dispatch).

Egads!

Because of their size, walruses tire quickly and are not as facile in the water as, say, penguins or sea lions, so they frequently pull their gargantuan forms onto ice floes to rest when they migrate from Russia to Alaska. But, when there’s no ice to migrate to, they have to take to the land. Hence their arrival in increasing numbers, with their sheer and growing numbers juxtaposed against human settlements, in both Alaska and Russia.

“The Walrus is on a Trajectory Toward Extinction”

Disappearing summer ice and increasing sea levels in terms of carbon dioxide, both attributed by the USGS to climate change, also are having their ill effects seen; for instance, clams and other walrus prey are on the decline.

And it’s theorized to only get worse as shipping traffic increases and if the land is opened up to further oil and natural gas exploration.

All these factors are clustering to literally frack with many animal species, from minuscule plankton to land animals such as caribou and fox, through the much-heralded polar bear, and back to walrus, whale, and seal species.

Rebecca Noblin, of the Center for Biological Diversity, which just released a report on 17 Arctic species hit hard by the shrinking ice and concomitant rise in ocean levels that are clearly attributable to climate change, noted that “Unless we dramatically reduce our greenhouse emissions, the walrus is on a trajectory toward extinction.”

One only hopes that this extinction doesn’t lay waste to either the few, loud global warming denialists or, on the other side of the rift, the legion of climatologists, scientists, and “ordinary people” like you and me.

What say you, readers–can’t we all just get along and accept the iron-clad data surrounding climate change?

ARTICLE © Leigh Ramsey/1 Woman Wordsmith, September 2010, for Gather.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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