At least 32 muskoxen, and possibly as many as 55, have been killed by a tidal surge at Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, according to National Park Service researchers.
Researchers who previously had attached radio collars to four members of the herd found their carcasses during a routine tracking flight earlier this month. Thirty-two of the shaggy animals were found frozen in ice along the northern coast of the Seward Peninsula. The other 23 members of the herd were not seen, though researchers said it was possible that they were buried deeper in the ice.
The herd had been counted on February 14, and on February 25 "a winter storm generated a tidal surge and coastal flooding that rapidly inundated low lying areas," Park Service officials said.
The Park Service is leading an investigation to better understand the storm that caused the rapid flooding and mortalities.
Researchers have been following the muskoxen as part of a five-year study into their overall population dynamics in northwestern Alaska. Once thought to have been driven off the landscape by overhunting in the late 19th or early 20th centuries, today it's thought that several thousand live on the Seward Peninsula, according to the Park Service.
The Park Service is working with local communities and researchers who may be in the vicinity of this region to minimize conflicts with scavengers and predators drawn to the carcasses. It is unlawful to remove horns from national parklands, and likely the meat is neither salvageable nor palatable, Park Service officials say.
Bering Land Bridge National Preserve is a 2.6-million-acre unit of the National Park System established in 1980. The preserve is a remnant of the land bridge that once connected Asia with North America over 13,000 years ago.