The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has altered the path of flights over a shore near Point Lay, Alaska, where an estimated 35,000 Pacific walruses, unable to find sea ice, have clustered together near the beach.
The fear is that planes will startle the giant clump of walruses, causing a stampede that could be particularly dangerous for baby walruses, according to The Guardian.
“The FAA is asking pilots to remain above 2,000 feet and half a mile away from the walruses. Helicopters — a bigger risk to the walruses because they are noisier — have been asked to remain 3,000 feet up and a mile away,” the report said.
It’s not just the threat of a giant walrus freakout that worries scientists. Instances of the walruses gathering together in huge groups is a palpable sign that the climate is changing. Alaskan sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is disappearing, leaving the marine mammals with fewer and fewer places to rest.
“The massive concentration of walruses onshore — when they should be scattered broadly in ice-covered waters — is just one example of the impacts of climate change on the distribution of marine species in the Arctic,” Margaret Williams, managing director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Arctic program, said in a statement.
The walrus clump mostly consists of females and their young, according to the World Wildlife Fund:
The cluster was first spotted in photos taken during a flight survey by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
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