Sixth Lowest Sea Ice Extent on Record Leaves 35,000 Walruses Stranded

(FAA blocks flights over stranded walruses in order to prevent panic. US Fish and Wildlife Service considers adding protection to walruses as endangered species after late summer stranding due to loss of sea ice.)

35,000 thousand. That’s the number of climate change refugees left stranded upon a thin strip of land along the northern coast of Alaska. The refugees, driven from their summer resting place along floating rafts of summer sea ice, have been forced to concentrate en mass for safety and foraging upon a near-ocean stretch of beach and simply wait for the sea ice’s return.

The ice they have previously used for their summer homes is simply gone. Yet one more casualty of human-driven climate change.

These refugees, of course, are walruses, members of a growing group of climate orphans who’ve lost homes and haunts due to a vicious and rapid changing of the geophysical world. All across the media this week, we’ve been witness to pictures of the mass stranding. But one wonders if we really fully understand the impact of what we are seeing — yet one more vulnerable inhabitant of the natural world now dislocated by climate change:

Walrus Mass Stranding

(Aerial photo of Walrus mass stranding. Image source — NOAA.)

The mass beaching is directly linked to devasting losses of Arctic sea ice ongoing since 2007. The sea ice serves as a kind of summer shelter for Walruses, especially for nursing pups and mothers who use the ice floating over shallow water for both a resting place and a feeding platform.

But now, the new abnormal is that walruses are stranded. The sea ice is too far off shore for it to be useful to them. So they collect in a disease amplifying huddle, rapidly stripping resources along a thin swath of shore. A fearful and vulnerable concentration of animals facing an uncertain future as brown bears prowl threateningly about them. A present in which infant walruses are vulnerable to trampling by the larger adults. A new world starkly devoid of the gentle gray whales with whom they once shared these shallow waters. The whales went on to the edge of the ice — a place now too remote for the walruses to follow.

During six of the last eight years, we’ve witnessed such events. Masses of walruses along shore that are 80 fold larger than during similar periods just 30 years ago.



(Arctic Sea Ice Extent as measured by the National Snow and Ice Data Center for the six lowest years on record including 2014. Record lowest extent occurred during 2012 [dotted green line]. Image source: NSIDC.)

And this year the sea ice retreated far into the Beaufort, well out of even the reach of strong swimmers like walruses. A sea ice extent for the entire Arctic was sixth lowest in the record. Part of an ongoing and brutal trend that, if it continues, will strip the late summer Arctic of all sea ice during the time-frame of 2017 to 2035. A decline that has implications for all living creatures — not just the walruses. For as humans continue to force a hothouse state upon the Earth, the risk is that we all, like the walruses, become refugees living in ever more difficult and dangerous environs.



35,000 Walruses Left on Beach Due to Climate Change

Walrus Stranding — A New Phenomena And We Don’t Know How Bad it Will Get


(Hat Tip to Colorado Bob)

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  1. Other species to add to the human forced climate ledger:

    Empty Nests of the North: “Massive Chick Deaths” in Seabird Colonies; Climate, Oceanic Changes Blamed

    Flatey Island, Iceland – When the days grew long, seabirds flocked to this hamlet on the edge of the Arctic to rear their chicks under the midnight sun. “Kria,” shrieked the terns, calling summer up from the slumbering ground. Black cliffs were transformed into snowbanks of white kittiwakes. Puffins whirred…

    These days, a scatter of stubborn holdovers streaks the sky and paddles the bay, but the legions are gone. The chicks have perished, their bereft parents have returned to sea..


    • Thanks for this. My bet is that climate change combined with human impacts is a primary reason for the devastating losses to wildlife over the past 40 years. With impacts worsening, I sincerely hope we can turn this around soon. I don’t want to see a what the natural world looks like after another 40 years of BAU.


    • Right wing media doesn’t want us to have any sympathy for the plight of other living creatures. What they do not understand is that their plight is our own as well.


  2. Kevin Jones

     /  October 3, 2014

    Something has got to give.


    • We need to actively help the natural world. Stop eating animals. Stop killing them. Do our damnedest to halt climate change. Work hard to help them recover.

      It’s their world as well as ours and we all can play a part in keeping it alive and life-sustaining.


  3. So, so sad! We have to do something “en masse” and right now!


  4. 35000 on the photo? That’s a lot. Everybody reproduce the same foto. 3000 is more accurate.


    • So now we are reduced to quibbling over counting walruses in aerial photos?

      Well, anyone with even rudimentary skills in grid analysis given the length, breadth and density of this group could well tell you the picture indicates tens of thousands.

      But I suppose it’s quite possible that accurate statistical analysis is yet one more government conspiracy 😉


  5. Loni

     /  October 3, 2014

    Thank you for the post Robert, more and more of us, (animals included), are getting backed into corners.
    Just a quick story, I was trying to get Dr. Guy McPherson here to my local area in Northern Calif. while he is on a speaking engagement in the north state, so I called the local University Geological Dept. to see if I could enlist their help. After giving a rather in depth and concise account of the world, as I understand it, after about eight minutes, the person said, “Are you talking about the Permian Extinction?” I realized I had not been clear enough, so I asked, “How is your department dealing with the news of the methane volcanoes in Siberia?” The question was met with a long silence.
    Now not having the advantage of a higher education, I’m going to assume that the failure to communicate was mine, but shouldn’t universities be telling these kids what’s in store for them?


  6. Kevin Jones

     /  October 3, 2014

    My guess is this climate ‘march’ is of the same order of magnitude of mass as the one in NYC.


  7. “For as humans continue to force a hothouse state upon the Earth, we all, like the walruses, become refugees living in ever more difficult and dangerous environs.”

    And finally, after a long grinding descent for mankind both qualitatively and quantitatively, Earth will shake humanity off like fleas”*

    Unless, of course, we find a way to replace the present capitalist system, and follow through with it tout de suite.


  1. Sixth Lowest Sea Ice Extent on Record Leaves 35,000 Walruses Stranded | robertscribbler | Enjeux énergies et environnement

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