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October 13, 2014

35,000 walruses gather in Alaska due to climate change


A gathering of 35,000 walruses on the Alaskan shore earlier this month was a dramatic glimpse at the effects of climate change.

Scientists say the walruses moved to land from their natural habitat of sea ice, which is disappearing as the global climate warms.

Arctic walruses typically spent their lives on sea ice, using it as a platform to reach their food in the water, according to Margaret Williams, managing director of the arctic program at the World Wildlife Fund. The gathering of walruses is the largest ever seen on shore in Alaska, and is a direct result of rising global temperatures, Williams said.

Local communities are taking steps to protect the walruses that have come ashore in Alaska and Russia. Towns are trying to reduce disturbances to the walruses, who are easily frightened and could start a stampede, Williams said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of other species, such as polar bears and bowhead whales, depend on sea ice for their habitat and are in danger of losing it.

The earth’s temperature has been rising since the late 1800s due to the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and gas. These materials release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and prevent heat from escaping. Research has shown that the decade spanning 2001-2010 was the hottest to date.

Warm up questions
  1. Where is Alaska?
  2. What is the natural habitat of walruses?
  3. How is climate change affecting animal habitats?
Critical thinking questions
  1. How is climate change affecting walruses?
  2. How can we prevent situations like the one the walruses are currently facing?
  3. Communities near the walrus gathering are changing behavior to accommodate them. If you were a city official that was affected by this situation, what would you tell citizens?
  4. How has climate change affected animal populations where you live?
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