By: Eva Gruber
Sea ice in the Arctic is melting faster than any climate models predicted.
The first ice-free summer may happen as early as 2025. The Pacific Walrus Haulout Database, based on 160 years (1852-2016) of data collected by American and Russian scientists, is now available publicly.
The United States Geological Survey hopes that by releasing the database, it will help fishermen, wildlife managers, mariners, industry, and others with increasing operations in the Arctic minimize their impacts on walrus populations.
The database also serves as a record of places that walrus traditionally haul out versus where they begin to haul out following climate change. Normally, walruses prefer to haul out on sea ice in between foraging trips to the sea floor.
However, in the past several years, summer sea ice has been retreating further and further north in the Chuckchi Sea and Russian waters, as temperatures are trending upwards. This is simply a condition that did not exist even a decade ago.
Since there is less sea ice around them when they forage, they have to travel farther to shore to be able to rest on land – this can have serious implications in how much energy they are expending, and in turn how much fat they are able to store to protect themselves from the extreme cold.
These behaviors are mirrored in the walrus haulout reports, as more mass haulouts are observed when walrus become concentrated on the few shores closest to rich feeding grounds. With more walrus hauling out in one location, the dangers of a stampede rise, and as a consequence more young walrus are trampled to death at these mass haulout locations.