Is Climate Change Really Causing Walruses to Jump Off Cliffs?

A Pacific walrus rests at the top of high cliffs in Russia.

Credit: Sophie Lanfear/Silverback/Netflix

Netflix launched a documentary series called “Our World” on April 5 that beings in the pantheon of fantastic wildlife docs along with BBC’s “World Earth” and “Blue World.” The brand-new series sticks out, however, due to the fact that it clearly demonstrates how every community it highlights is being altered and threatened by environment modification And it consists of one specifically upsetting scene: Russian walruses tumble extremely down cliff sides to their deaths, one after another.

David Attenborough, the series’ storyteller, blames the event on modifications to the Arctic community that walruses occupy. With sea ice declining every year, he states, the walruses are required to rest on crowded, small beaches. Those beaches are so overcrowded, he states, that a few of the walruses scale cliffs for a bit of peace. However when the lumbering animals, unaccustomed to climbing up or to heights, choose to go back to the water, they roam straight off the edge of the cliffs to their awful deaths.

It’s a stunning scene and an engaging story. [In Photos: A Conveyor Belt for Arctic Sea Ice]

So, did environment modification actually drive the walruses up the cliffs and to their deaths?

Here’s what Live Science discovered:

This event isn’t the very first time individuals have actually recorded the mass-falling deaths of walruses. Back in 1996, Alaskan wildlife authorities reported a then-nearly extraordinary event in which almost 60 male walruses was up to their deaths off a 200- foot (60 meters) cliff side in the state. At the time, when sea ice was still more substantial and environment effects less well-understood, scientists didn’t blame the deaths on environment modification. Rather, they were perplexed, without a response to describe the habits, The New york city Times reported at the time. The years given that have actually seen more reports of these sorts of walrus occasions.

However more-recent research study has actually shown that environment modification might be driving fatal “disruptions” at walrus “haul-outs” in precisely the method the documentary suggests. Walruses usually invest the majority of their time on sea ice, with some periodic time invested in land in big groups called haul-outs.

A May 2017 report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) discovered that the retreat of sea ice from the Arctic does certainly lead walruses to take part in mass haul-outs onto congested beaches more frequently. And at those crowded haul-outs, the walruses are certainly quickly alarmed, with a boost in fatal “disruption” occasions– though tramplings, specifically of young calves, are a lot more typical than cliff falls, according to that report.

Subject specialists recommended to Live Science that falling occasions usually do not include the walruses scaling cliffs as the documentary suggested. Rather, the occasions take place as walruses increase shallow slopes on the cliffs’ far sides. As soon as up leading, the animals can in some cases stampede off these cliff sides if a passing airplane, polar bear, boat or other unknown freaky thing frightens them.

Environment modification does appear to have actually made these sorts of occasions more typical. Nevertheless, in Alaska these mass fallings appear to regional observers to have actually decreased in the last few years thanks to human efforts to handle the environments of the haul-outs. Decreases in overhead airplanes and other human disruptions appear to have actually avoided a minimum of a few of the deaths. Coastal management efforts, led by regional native groups, have actually likewise worked to some degree.

Over 100,000 walrus hauled out along a small stretch of coast in Northern Russia. In the absence of sea ice, walruses have no choice but to come to land in order to rest between feeding trips to the ocean floor in search of clams.

Over 100,000 walrus carried out along a little stretch of coast in Northern Russia. In the lack of sea ice, walruses have no option however to come to land in order to rest in between feeding journeys to the ocean flooring looking for clams.

Credit: Hector Skevington-Postles/Jamie McPherson/Silverback/Netflix

The USFWS report discovered that even as their populations have actually had problem with calf deaths, decreased sea ice and poorer foraging chances, walruses are a relatively durable types. A minimum of at the level sea ice has actually decreased to up until now, the animals appear able to weather the lots of human infringements on their area, the report stated.

Initially released on Live Science