Walruses again headed toward shore in Northwest Alaska

This Sept. 7, 2010 picture provided by the U.S. Geological Survey shows walruses on the barrier island beaches near Point Lay, Alaska. Tens of thousands of walruses have come ashore in northwest Alaska because the sea ice they normally rest on has melted. Federal scientists say this massive move to shore by walruses is unusual in the United States. Associated Press

Retreating sea ice this summer is again forcing walruses to haul out onshore in Northwest Alaska, say researchers who continue to worry that this increasing behavior will lead to more stampede deaths among young animals that are crushed by adults. Live Science reports that U.S. Geological Survey scientists radio-tagged 40 walruses in the Chukchi Sea this summer. Some are already ashore in Alaska, weeks earlier than in previous years.

While walruses have traditionally come onto land at times, researchers have seen them coming ashore in greater numbers, in new places and at times not seen before, said Geoff York, senior program officer for Arctic species with the World Wildlife Fund Global Arctic Program.

Walruses feed on mollusks, clams and other animals they retrieve by diving to the seafloor. Normally, the walruses, particularly females with calves, rest on the drifting sea ice between food dives during the summer.

However, as the ice recedes, it disappears over the relatively shallower waters where the walruses can feed. The remaining ice remains only over water that is so deep the walruses cannot dive down to the bottom and feed. When this happens, the animals retreat onto land near shallower water.

In 2007, 2009 and 2010, walruses thought to number in the tens of thousands hauled out on Northwest Alaska beaches. This year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service postponed adding walruses to the endangered or threatened lists because other species have a higher priority.

Read more at Live Science.