The phenomenon isn’t rare, but it’s becoming worryingly frequent in the last few years, and the Alaskan beach has seen a walrus invasion crowding up the shore once more. Photographer Gary Braasch captured the event called “hall-out” on the northwestern coast of Alaska, near Point Lay.
It’s a natural part of a walrus’ life, with one very notable difference: it’s not done on shores. In fact, the pinniped family (walruses, seals or sea lions) pop out of the cold waters and onto ice sheets to rest, mate or birth. It offers them a much needed shelter from potential predators lurking below the surface.
However, the process is taken to the shores when the ever increasing temperatures come into play and as a direct consequence of the infamous issue of climate change. Between 5,000 and 6,000 walruses fled to the shores of Alaska in order to further continue this routine of their life.
It’s quite simple. Walruses are very habitual creatures, who swim, rest, eat, mate, repeat for the entirety of their existence. It’s not precisely movie-worthy, but it is their natural process that is highly required to remain unaltered if their numbers seek a recovery.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes that walruses should be categorized as ‘endangered species’, but the decision will only be made in 2017.
In the meantime, the animals have to find a way to compensate for the loss of their natural environment and the Alaskan shores next to the Chuchki Sea provide just that. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, most of the world’s oceans are 10,000 feet deep, and the walruses are not the greatest of swimmers, so they require shallower floor beds to hunt for food.
The Chuchki Sea features a continental shelf that is only 150 feet deep, which is perfect for the rapidly exhausted walruses because it’s both an easier swim, as well as littered with worms and clams. It seems ideal, but there are notable problems.
With such a vast gathering, the risks grow higher for walruses to die due to turf fights, disease, food shortage, or have their young find injuries caused by stampedes. They are highly sensitive to loud sounds, so one airplane passing too low could send them into a sprint toward the waters, which might result in unfortunate casualties among their numbers.
The haul-out has barely begun last week, so it’s possible that the population of walruses on the Alaskan shores might grown. Last year, they saw to a whopping 35,000 creatures crowding together and it led to 60 young walruses perishing in stampedes.
Image source: thinglink.com