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In Alaska, thousands of walruses take to land

On Sept. 27, a pilot spotted a semicircular mass of moving bodies near Point Lay, Alaska. Pacific walruses, an estimated 35,000 of them, had pulled up tusk to tail on the beach. These animals like to come together in large numbers for protection and proximity. But scientists who study them are worried by gatherings like these because land is not the walrus’ preferred place to rest.

Sea ice is critical for all parts of the walrus life cycle. Adults dive and eat on the icy platforms. Females give birth and raise their pups there. On the ice, walruses can avoid predators and exhaustion; they are close to food and farther from harm.

As of today, according to daily sea ice tracking by the U.S. Geological Survey, walruses’ ice havens are gone. “There’s no ice in the Chukchi Sea — it’s entirely free,” said Anthony Fischbach, a wildlife biologist at the geological survey’s Alaska walrus research program. “It’s really stunning.”

But this isn’t the first time such large numbers of walruses have been seen congregating on Alaska’s shores. In the summer of 2007, sea ice extent hit a new low. That year, and for the first time in recorded history in Alaska, tens of thousands of Pacific walrus mothers and pups went ashore as the sea ice melted away. These massive haul-outs, as they are called, of females and babies have now occurred in six of the last eight summers in Alaska.

Chadwick V. Jay, also of the U.S. Geological Service walrus program, started working in the Arctic 20 years ago when the summer waters looked vastly different than they do now. “In the summer we’ve seen the sea ice recede far to the north,” he said. That change, according to Jay, is “making it very difficult for walruses to make a living.”

—Jeffery Delviscio, The New York Times

German regulator warns Google over collecting users’ data

A German privacy regulator has ordered Google to give its users greater control over how their online data is used in the latest privacy case that challenges how the search giant operates in Europe.

The city of Hamburg’s data protection regulator, one of Germany’s leading data protection agencies, said in a ruling that Google must seek Germans’ permission before it uses their data to create online user profiles across its services like email, search and its Android-based mobile products.

The watchdog said that Google’s ability to aggregate such online data without people’s consent could allow the company to ascertain individuals’ financial information, relationship status and sexual orientation, which is illegal under German law.

The German regulator acknowledged that Google did not collect this delicate information to aim advertising at people online. But it added that other information that the company aggregated without users’ consent could nevertheless allow the search giant to form a detailed picture of individual users.

Google may face penalties of up to 1 million euros ($1.27 million) if it does not comply with the ruling, according to a spokesman for the Hamburg data protection commissioner.

In response, Google said that it had worked with the regulator to explain its privacy policies, adding that “we’re now studying their order to determine next steps.”

Google has a month to respond to the ruling, which was based on an investigation that began in April 2013.

Google has faced similar cases brought by other national regulators. In France, the national watchdog fined the company 150,000 euros ($190,000) this year for similarly tracking and storing people’s online information.

—Mark Scott, The New York Times