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Arctic climate: USGS scientists document walrus response to shrinking summer sea ice cover

A Walrus in the Chukchi Sea during a tagging survey onboard the Norseman II in June 2010. Photo courtesy Sarah Sonsthagen , U.S. Geological Survey.

New study a first step in understanding long-term impacts to walrus populations

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey say walruses in the Arctic are responding to shrinking summer sea ice by arriving earlier at their northern feeding grounds on the broad continental shelf of the Chukchi Sea.

When the sea ice over the continental shelf melts completely in the fall, they “hauled out” onshore in large aggregations and foraged for food closer to shore. Hauling out refers to the behavior associated with seals and walruses of temporarily leaving the water for sites on land or ice, according to the study published in the journal Marine Ecology.

The researchers said they’re not exactly sure how this may affect walrus populations in the long run, however it is known that immature walruses are more susceptible to mortality from trampling onshore, Additionally, hauling out onshore and using nearshore feeding areas may require more energy. Continue reading

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