Walruses spend most of their lives at sea, but haul out on sea ice and sometimes on land to rest between foraging bouts. When sea ice recedes past the continental shelf into the deep waters of the Arctic Basin, as it has in the past few summers, the walruses haul out on land, often in great numbers. USGS Alaska Science Center researchers, in cooperation with the Native Village of Point Lay, have been radio-tracking walruses’ movements to learn more about their response to the changing sea-ice conditions.
With increased awareness of the walrus haulouts comes the necessity of protecting the resting animals from human disturbance. Walruses face danger from stampedes when they gather on shore.
Female walruses and their young have come ashore during late summer and fall in four of the last five years on Alaska’s northwest coast. In 2010 and again late last month, thousands of walruses gathered on beaches north of Point Lay. More than 130 mostly young walruses were crushed in September 2009 at Alaska’s Icy Cape from a disturbance of unknown cause.
Here’s what the haulout looks like from a distance: