Alaskan musk oxen found dead at Bering Preserve

The Anchorage Daily NewsMarch 23, 2011 

At least 32 musk oxen in the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve perished during a nasty storm surge last month, and officials are worried many more may be buried deeper in the ice and out of sight.

The carcasses were discovered March 15 frozen in ice on the northern coast of the Seward Peninsula by researchers studying the animals, according to the National Park Service.

Four of them had been fitted with radio collars a month earlier, part of a five-year federal study on musk ox population in the Northwest. At that time, some 55 of the animals were gathered together.

The deaths took place within the boundaries of the 2.6-million-acre Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. Shishmaref is the nearest village. The preserve is a remnant of the land bridge that connected Asia with North America some 13,000 years ago.

Alaska wildlife biologist Tony Gorn of Nome visited the site on Friday. He saw remains strewn over nearly a half-mile.

"It's pretty interesting," he said. "The carcasses are spread out over several hundred yards, and on the periphery are some young animals. That's terribly unusual."

When threatened, musk ox typically bunch up, with younger animals in the middle.

And despite being among the best-insulated animals on Earth, the oxen probably died of exposure, Gorn said.

"They do have unbelievable insulating qualities," he said. "But that ends at their legs, which don't have that long hair you see on their bellies. They didn't get wet, they got saturated. They may have drowned, but it's possible they became completely saturated and died from exposure."

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