Two-tonne walruses climbing and falling off cliffs as a result of climate change

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Dead walrus on beach

Extraordinarily, two-tonne walruses are climbing steep rocky cliff faces to escape beaches overcrowded with other walruses whereupon they fall off to their deaths when trying to get down to feed. This is perhaps the most stark example of the effects of climate change in the natural world.

Dead walrus. Photo: Mike Korostelev.

In filming the Netflix series Our Planet, you will see in one episode called Frozen Worlds walruses climbing cliff faces which is extraordinary. Normally these large mountains of blubber fish from platforms of ice. However, the ice platforms are now so far away that it is closer for them to get to their feeding grounds from the coast, 40 miles away.

Consequently, there has been a mass migration of exhausted walruses ending up on beaches and on one beach the film crew saw 100,000 of them. This is estimated to be half the Pacific walrus population.

In order to avoid jostling for space on the beach, some smaller walruses decided to scale cliffs to find some room. They were seen climbing up 80 m cliffs which is, as Sir David Attenborough said, an extraordinary challenge for a one-tonne animal used to living in and around sea ice.

Walruses have poor eyesight and as they become hungry they need get down from the cliffs to return to the sea. In desperation hundreds of them a falling from a great height to their deaths. It is extremely sad and worrying.

“It was like watching someone jump from the Twin Towers.” said Sophie Lanfear a member of the filming crew.

Apparently there are hundreds, yes hundreds, of dead walruses on one beach. It makes you shake your head in disbelief and sadness and wonder and hopelessness at where it will all end.