Walrus on the ice
© Unknown
Gambell - For as long as many here can remember, hunters in this Eskimo village where the mountains of Siberia are clearly visible have managed to kill enough walruses to provide food that lasts through the brutal Arctic winter.

But after harvesting only 108 walruses this year - one sixth the average - the island community of 690 residents is rushing to find alternate sources of food before winter sets in. Other towns have offered donations of reindeer and fish, but tribal officials say it isn't enough to offset the shortage. Villagers say they can't afford to shop at the one full-service store because prices there can be three times as high as on the mainland.

"If it continues like this, we will seriously starve," said Jennifer Campbell , a 38-year-old mother of five whose family caught two walruses this year, down from as many as 20 in normal years. In August, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell declared an economic disaster for Gambell and its sister village of Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island, freeing up more state resources such as possible grants to help the stricken communities.

State and federal marine experts, meanwhile, say the collapse of the walrus harvest is another example of how wild weather is altering life in native villages like these that still follow a subsistence lifestyle. Rick Thoman , a climatologist with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks, said the Arctic's warming climate is likely to make it harder for such villages to catch enough walruses and other prey animals and fish, which scientists say are likely to fall in number in coming years due to diminished ice.

But this past spring, the village had the opposite problem: The coldest winter to hit the state in decades meant the Siberian Yupik Eskimo hunters on the island, which lies just 36 miles from Russia's Chukchi Peninsula, weren't able to maneuver their boats past unusually thick ice in the Bering Sea as the walrus herds migrated past.

Comment: Despite the author's efforts to concentrate on global warming in the whole article, the fact is that there is a cold change underway.

Even including last winter, Alaska's average temperature has risen 3.4 degrees in the past half century, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates. The reduced ice protection from ocean storms has resulted in so much coastal erosion that some villages have laid plans to relocate to drier ground. State officials said the climate-change threat comes on top of others, including rising fuel costs.

"They've had to adapt to other changes," said Larry Hartig, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. "Will they be able to adapt this time?"

Here in Gambell - a windswept hamlet surrounded by sea and tundra - other signs of a changing climate have been showing. A number of birds adapted to the cold, such as emperor geese, are seen less, said Paul Lehman , a professional bird author and guide from San Diego who has visited here since 1992. Many walrus hunters say they have noticed thinner ice over the past decade, with the exception of this year, when thick sheets of it packed in around St. Lawrence Island.

"We've heard a lot about global warming and climate change, and we have seen it in the water," said Branson Tungiyan, 63, a village elder.

Gambell's walrus hunt had been mostly unaffected in recent years - varying between 446 and 787 animals harvested from 2008 to 2012, according the Eskimo Walrus Commission's estimates. Gambell usually sends its hunters out in small boats for a month when walruses float by each May and June.

But this year, the hunt lasted only about a week. "The ice was so bad we couldn't get out," said Brian Aningayou , a 38-year-old hunter who bagged just four walruses. Mr. Aningayou said he has turned to shooting local birds, but a meat locker that feeds an extended family of 40 still isn't half full. "We have maybe enough meat to last till the end of November," he said.

Many Eskimos here depend on sales of walrus ivory carvings to supplement their incomes. Ms. Campbell, a clerk for the village, said her husband carves statues that fetch upward of $40 each, but fewer walruses mean less of their ivory tusks to use.

More people, meanwhile, are turning to the Gambell Native Store for food, where a four-pound fryer chicken costs $25.

Said Gloria James , 52, the village's marine mammal program manager: "It's painful times."