Ferreira theorizes that ship traffic is diverting the walruses to shore in unusual increasing numbers. But government scientists suspect it has more to do with an increasing lack of sea ice. Walruses have been known to haul out onto land in large numbers in Russia, but never on the Alaska side of their migratory corridor in the tens of thousands, as is being witnessed this year.
Walrus researchers with the United States Geological Survey estimate there could be anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 of the mammals currently taking a rest along Alaska's Chukchi coastline. Ferreira, one of about 234 people who call Point Lay home, thinks the numbers may be even higher. Since only about 20 percent of walruses generally come to shore, scientists suspect another 80,000 walruses may be swimming nearby.