Scientists have discovered over 3,000 walruses getting together in a remote corner of Russia’s Yamal peninsula. The animals were hanging out on a frozen beach of the icy Kara Sea.
The animals got together to reproduce and socialize on a so-called haulout, a place on ice where the animal meet. Walrus haulouts have traditionally been located on drifting sea ice or on Arctic islands, scientists say.
But warmer climate cycles mean sea ice is shrinking, and habitats are under threat from oil and gas exploration and more Arctic shipping.
“They are fascinatingly interesting animals. When you lay there with thousands of them and you are between them, they speak to each other, communicate, argue, maybe they exchange words of love. I seem to romanticize it, but this is exactly what it looks to me,” Aleksander Sokolov, deputy director of the Arctic Research Station at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Plant and Animal Ecology Institute, told Reuters.
It’s estimated there are only 12,500 adult Atlantic walruses left in the world. They were, at one time, overhunted for blubber and ivory, but commercial hunting was banned last century.
“This haulout is unique because there are both female and male walruses, as well as calves of different ages,” Sokolov said. He called the find a “unique open-air laboratory”.
“We want to believe that it’s a positive sign,” said Andrei Boltunov, from the Marine Mammal Research and Expedition Center, about the number of animals they discovered. But he also added that it was too soon to draw any conclusions about the walrus population.
According to Boltunov, the Kara Sea’s ice-free season has become longer in recent decades. Boltunov says much work was required to establish what made this particular beach so attractive for thousands of walruses and what steps could be taken to protect them.
Scientists have taken DNA samples and fitted several walruses with satellite tags to monitor their movements for up to several months.
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