Walruses are gathering by the thousands near a remote Alaskan village. Here's why.

Thousands of Pacific walruses are storming the shore of a barrier island off Alaska.

They're not gathering for a party, a flash mob, or a SeaWorld audition (thank god). They're just kinda ... stuck. For now, anyway. One walrus spoke with us:


A natural part of pinniped (walruses, seals, and sea lions) life is a behavior known as "hauling out." That's when they hop out of the water onto ice or land for rest, mating, or birth; to avoid being devoured by predators; or even just to hang out.

Image by the U.S. Geological Survey.

But these enormous land haul-outs are a new phenomenon that started only in the last decade.

Right now, there are an estimated 5,000-6,000 walruses on shore near Point Lay, a largely Native village in northwestern Alaska. We have yet to see if the situation reaches the scale of last year's haul-out, when more than 35,000 walruses piled onto a nearby shore.

"What we have here, folks, is what scientists call a 'sh*t ton' of walruses."

Why are so many walruses hauling out to land, and why is it a problem?

The changing climate is melting the ice sheets that the walruses would otherwise be chillin' on during the summer months.

Here's how walruses live: wake up, swim, scour the ocean floor for food, rest, and repeat. They also mate and have babies and stuff in between, but that's about it.

Image by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Walruses like shallow water because they can't swim for long, and shallow waters mean shorter trips at mealtime. According to researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey (video below), that's exactly what draws them to this part of the ocean:

"Most of the world's ocean is 10,000 feet deep. Beneath the Chuchki Sea is an immense continental shelf that is only 150 feet deep. This vast shallow sea is extremely rich in the clams and worms so vital to the walrus."

But rising temperatures are causing their summer homes to retreat into the deeper waters of the north earlier in the year, leading to these massive haul-outs.

Unfortunately for walruses, life on land ain't easy.

They have to swim farther and/or deeper for food. Their huge numbers can drain food supplies more quickly, cause turf battles, and increase the chances of disease outbreaks.

Haul-outs of this size also put walruses at constant threat of human disturbance. Ships, planes, and even jerks with cameras can trigger stampedes that put calves at risk of injury or death.

Public domain photo by Joel Garlich Miller/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Officials have released a statement instructing media, tourists, and even locals to maintain their distance from the thousands of walruses crowding the shores. Our spokeswalrus agrees:

Walruses aren't the only ones who are worried about what's happening.

The walrus is an important part of native Alaskans' culture. They count on the walrus for food, clothing, boat building, tools, art, and a lot more. But rapid ice melt in the region, says the USGS, could create even more barriers to recovery:

"This longer season of open water has created the potential for greater human presence. Now, there is more opportunity for trans-ocean shipping, fishing, offshore oil and gas development, and tourism. Walrus and their calves must now contend with increased human presence, just as the security of their summer sea ice disappears."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service thinks the walrus should be classified as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. But a decision won't be made until 2017, once researchers have done their digging. Hopefully, they won't be too late.

To learn more, check out this video by the U.S. Geological Survey:

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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