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Disappearing Sea Ice Strands Walruses on Shore September 17, 2010
Alaskan walrus gathering
Never before have tens of thousands of walruses been seen crowded together on Alaska's coast.
Walruses have joined polar bears and other creatures that are acutely affected by the record decline of Arctic sea ice in recent years.

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey found that for the third time in four years, unprecedented numbers of the marine mammals are congregating onshore in northwest Alaska due to the lack of an icepack.

Large numbers of walrus calves have been found swimming in the Arctic alone, presumably abandoned by their mothers while they were making an arduous ice-free journey to shore.

The bulky animals normally float on ice over the summer, occasionally diving to the sea floor to forage for food. But again this year, tens of thousands have been forced to swim to land and crowd together in Alaska and Siberia due to ice-free conditions.

The Fish and Wildlife Service fears that stampedes could prove fatal for the youngest of the ice refugees, which have historically only gathered on land in the hundreds rather than thousands.

Photo: U.S. Geological Survey