In late summer 2010, thousands of Pacific walruses came ashore, or hauled out, within earshot of the Iñupiat Eskimo community of Point Lay on the northwest coast of Alaska. Small numbers of these marine mammals were known to haul out from time to time in this region, and a massive herd had first done so a few years earlier. But this was the first time the animals had chosen a spot close to human settlement. That proximity to the village of 275 people opened the marine mammals to the threat of disturbance. Walruses are easily spooked, including by the ordinary activities of humans in their daily lives, and the animals often respond by stampeding, which can kill and injure other members of the herd.
Henry P. Huntington is a senior officer for The Pew Charitable Trusts, where he directs the science work of its Arctic programs.