Nightly News | September 20, 2010
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Finally here tonight, it's one thing to hear how our planet is changing, getting warmer, they say, with open water where the ice used to be. It's another thing to actually see it. You can see it from satellite photos oh there -- or you can go there and see how life is changing for one of the great iconic creatures of the North . Our own Lee Cowan made his way to the remote village of Point Lay on Alaska 's north slope where the walrus are congregating.
LEE COWAN reporting: The midnight sun is finally setting here in the Arctic ; but as the summer wains and the dark winter months approach, something isn't right.
Mr. JIM TAZRUK: It's warm now. It should have been like snow on the ground.
COWAN: Jim Tazruk has lived along the Chukchi Sea most of his life and thought he'd seen everything the Arctic had to offer, until he saw this.
Mr. TAZRUK: Right over there.
COWAN: Those are all walrus?
Mr. TAZRUK: Yeah, all walrus.
COWAN: Tens of thousands of walruses resting on the beach instead of their traditional ice floes . A warning sign, say scientists, that the walrus' icy environment is warming up fast.
Mr. CHAD JAY (United States Geological Survey Research Ecologist): They prefer to use the sea ice offshore if they can, but when it's gone, then they really don't have any choice but to come to shore.
COWAN: A report out this month shows it's the third lowest Arctic ice level in over 30 years.
Mr. MARK SERREZE (National Snow and Ice Data Center): We're really seeing an Arctic in the midst of a very rapid change and right now there seems to be no signs that it's stopping.
COWAN: And for the native Inupiat people who live here, that's frightening.
Mr. LEO FERREIRA (Point Lay Village Tribal President): Scientists telling us that there's global warming going on and...
COWAN: Do you believe them?
Mr. FERREIRA: Yeah, I believe them.
COWAN: Walruses need the ice to rest on in between feeding. Much like polar bears, they can't swim forever. And on land risk of a stampede could kill young calves.
COWAN: Last year hundreds were crushed by their easily startled mothers as they lumbered back into the sea for safety. So why here specifically, why Point Lay ? Scientists aren't so sure. And just how long the walruses will stay or if they come back next year is anybody's guess. You think the walrus will be able to adapt?
Mr. TAZRUK: I hope so.
COWAN: What if they can't?
Mr. TAZRUK: We're in a lot of trouble.
COWAN: Bellwethers of a changing environment in a place where summer is lingering too long. Lee Cowan, NBC News, Point Lay , Alaska.