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Walruses Come to Shore Off Coast of Alaska in Their Earliest Appearance Since Sea Ice Substantially Recedes

This is the earliest date that large numbers of walruses have been confirmed on shore at Point Lay

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Walruses, Alaska, Sea
FILE - An estimated 35,000 Pacific walruses are pictured hauled out on a beach near the village of Point Lay, Alaska, 700 miles northwest of Anchorage, in this Sept. 2014 handout photo. (NOAA/NMFS/AFSC/NMML). VOA

Thousands of Pacific walruses have come to shore off the northwest coast of Alaska in their earliest appearance since sea ice has substantially receded.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage received a report that several thousand walruses were gathered Tuesday on the barrier island off the coast of Point Lay, a Chukchi Sea village of 215 about 700 miles (1,126 kilometers) northwest of Anchorage, spokeswoman Andrea Medeiros said.

”This is the earliest date that large numbers of walruses have been confirmed on shore at Point Lay,” she said in an email response to questions, and the first time a herd has been seen as early as July.

Sea ice along northern Alaska disappeared far earlier than normal this spring as a result of exceptionally warm ocean temperatures.

Walruses, Alaska, Sea
Thousands of Pacific walruses have come to shore off the northwest coast of Alaska in their earliest appearance since sea ice has substantially receded. Pixabay

Since 1981, an area more than double the size of Texas — 610,000 square miles (1.58 million square kilometers) — has become unavailable to Arctic marine mammals by summer’s end, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Mature male walruses spent summers in the Bering Sea. Females and their young migrate north in spring, following the ice edge as it recedes into the Chukchi Sea.

Sea ice allows immature walruses to rest as their mothers dive over the shallow continental shelf to eat clams and snails. However, when ice recedes beyond the shelf over water more than 10,000 feet (3,050 meters) deep, walruses are forced to beaches to rest in Alaska and Russia.

Federal biologists have documented herds as large as 40,000 animals in recent years.

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Young walruses are vulnerable when gathered in herds. The animals lie shoulder to shoulder. If startled by a polar bear, airplane or hunter, the herd stampedes into the safety of the ocean and young animals are crushed.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has notified the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, and barge companies and airlines serving Point Lay that walruses are in the area, Medeiros said. The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits the “take” of walrus, which includes disturbance from human activity.

Sea ice usually melts to its summer minimum sometime in September.

The federal government in 2008 listed polar bears as a threatened species because of diminished sea ice brought on by climate warming. The Center for Biological Diversity that year petitioned to do the same for walruses.

Walruses, Alaska, Sea
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage received a report that several thousand walruses were gathered Tuesday on the barrier island off the coast of Point Lay. Pixabay

However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in October 2017 that walruses are adapting and no one has proven that they need sea ice for birthing, nursing and feeding.

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The Center for Biological Diversity sued to reverse that decision and the lawsuit is pending before a U.S. District Court judge in Anchorage. (VOA)

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Warming Oceans may Reduce Sea Life by 17%,Says Study

If the world's greenhouse gas emissions stay at the present rate, that means a 17% loss of biomass

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Hot Water, Study, Sea
This August 2017 photo provided by the U.S. Fish and wildlife service shows a water-run chinook salmon. VOA

The world’s oceans will likely lose about one-sixth of their fish and other marine life by the end of the century if climate change continues on its current path, a new study says.

Every degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) that the world’s oceans warm, the total mass of sea animals is projected to drop by 5%, according to a comprehensive computer-based study by an international team of marine biologists. And that does not include effects of fishing.

If the world’s greenhouse gas emissions stay at the present rate, that means a 17% loss  of biomass – the total weight of all the marine animal life – by the year 2100, according to Tuesday’s study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But if the world reduces carbon pollution, losses can be limited to only about 5%, the study said.

“We will see a large decrease in the biomass of the oceans,” if the world doesn’t slow climate change, said study co-author William Cheung, a marine ecologist at the University of British Columbia. “There are already changes that have been observed.”

Hot Water, Study, Sea
The world’s oceans will likely lose about one-sixth of their fish and other marine life. VOA

While warmer water is the biggest factor, climate change also produces oceans that are more acidic and have less oxygen, which also harms sea life, Cheung said.

Much of the world relies on the oceans for food or livelihood, scientists say.

“The potential ramifications of these predicted losses are huge, not just for ocean biodiversity, but because people around the world rely on ocean resources,” said University of Victoria biology professor Julia Baum, who wasn’t part of the study but says it makes sense. “Climate change has the potential to cause serious new conflicts over ocean resource use and global food security, particularly as human population continues to grow this century.”

The biggest animals in the oceans are going to be hit hardest, said study co-author Derek Tittensor, a marine ecologist at the United Nations World Conservation Monitoring Center in England.

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“The good news here is that the main building blocks of marine life, plankton and bacteria may decline less heavily, the bad news is that those marine animals that we use directly, and care about most deeply, are predicted to suffer the most as climate change is working its way up the food chain,” co-author Boris Worm, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Canada, said in an email.

Tropical areas, already warm, will also see the biggest losses, Cheung said.

Scientists had already thought that climate change will likely reduce future ocean life, but past computer simulations looked at only part of the picture or used only one model. This study uses six different state-of-the-art computer models that give the best big picture look yet, Cheung said.

It is hard to separate past climate change impacts from those of fishing, but past studies have shown places where observed fish loss can be attributed to human-caused climate change, Chung added.

Hot Water, Study, Sea
Every degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) that the world’s oceans warm, the total mass of sea animals is projected to drop by 5%. VOA

Tittensor pointed to lobsters off Maine and North Atlantic right whales as examples of creatures already being hurt by global warming hitting the ocean.

University of Georgia marine biologist Samantha Joye, who wasn’t part of the research, praised the study as meticulous and said it is also “an urgent call for action.”

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“Healthy oceans are required for planetary stability,” Joye said in an email. “Aggressive global action to slow climate change is a moral imperative.” (VOA)