This is why 35,000 walruses have suddenly squeezed themselves onto a single beach in Alaska
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Image: Corey Accardo/AP via The Guardian

Unbelievable images were captured by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) over the weekend on a beach about 8 km north of Point Lay in the far north-west of Alaska.

The gathering of walruses was spotted during the NOAA’s annual arctic marine mammal aerial survey, and shows the impact that melting sea ice is having on the species.

Unlike seals, walruses can’t swim forever and need to rest, which they usually do on rocks or floating sea ice. In summer they retreat to the Chukchi Sea north of Alaska and Russia, and use the edge of the Arctic sea ice as a platform from which to hunt and raise their young.

But in recent years the ice has receded so far north that its edge is now over the Arctic Ocean, which is so deep that the walruses can’t dive to the bottom to feed. 

Instead, walruses have started gathering in increasing numbers on Alaskan beaches instead - in 2011 a similar sized gathering was seen, and last year there were around 10,000 walruses spotted in the area.

“It’s another remarkable sign of the dramatic environmental conditions changing as the result of sea ice loss,” Margaret Williams the managing director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Arctic program told The Guardian.

“The walruses are telling us what the polar bears have told us and what many indigenous people have told us in the high Arctic, and that is that the Arctic environment is changing extremely rapidly and it is time for the rest of the world to take notice and also to take action to address the root causes of climate change.”

The gatherings aren’t necessarily dangerous for the walruses, which often move in large groups. However there are reports that some young are being trampled when the group moves quickly, and researchers are looking into these claims further.

While it's not likely to be good news for the environment, you can't deny it makes for some spectacular images. See more below.

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Image: Corey Accardo/AP via The Guardian

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Corey Arrardo/NOAA/NMFS/AFSC/NMML via Alaska Dispatch News