A huge gathering of walrus in northwest Alaska was recently spotted during NOAA’s annual arctic marine mammal aerial survey. These walruses are forced onto beaches when sea ice melts away. According to a report on Flight 240 of the Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals, no sea ice was spotted during the flight on Saturday.

They found an estimated 35,000 walruses on a beach near Point Lay. Just north of the massive group of walruses, 36 were found dead.

The walrus group exploded in numbers from 1,500 just four days before Saturday’s survey (pictured below). Around 50 dead walruses were observed during that survey.

walrus haulout up close

This phenomenon, called a ‘haul-out,’ is a relatively new one according to NOAA. It was first observed in 2007. Last year, nearly 10,000 walruses gathered on the same beach near Point Lay. In 2011, the number hit 30,000.

“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,” said Margaret Williams, WWF’s managing director of the Arctic program, in a statement.

“The sharp decline of Arctic sea ice over the last decade means major changes for wildlife and communities alike,” Williams added. “Today’s news about the sea ice minimum is yet another reminder of the urgent need to ratchet down global greenhouse gas emissions—the main human factor driving massive climate change.”

These ‘haul-outs’ aren’t exclusive to Alaska either. A similar one was spotted along the Russian coast near Rykaipij back in August. This one numbered around 4,500 walruses.

Image credit: NOAA

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