Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pacific walrus may be listed under Endangered Species Act

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that they are considering granting Endangered Species Act protections to the Pacific Walrus. The Pacific walrus, which inhabits the Arctic seas between Alaska and Siberia, is at increasing threat of extinction due in part to global warming.

Like the polar bear, the Pacific walrus depends on sea ice for it's survival. The coastal ice acts as a floating nursery for nursing calves and as a staging ground from which adult walruses forage for clams. As the Earth's atmosphere warms causing the sea ice to melt, the walrus is forced inland seeking new habitat. Arctic summer sea ice is predicted to disappear completely by 2030 or before, and 40 percent of winter sea ice in the Bering Sea may be lost by mid-century if current greenhouse gas emissions continue

Inland population shifts such as this have led to overcrowding and deadly stampedes. The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that Arctic sea ice during the 2007 melt season was at it's lowest recorded level. This led to herds as big as 40,000 and ultimately thousands of deaths due to trampling. More recently, 131 walruses were killed by trampling off the Northwest coast of Alaska.

The Pacific walrus is at further risk of habitat loss due to oil exploration. In 2008, the Bush administration leased nearly 3 million acres of the Chukchi Sea off Alaska to oil companies. The species had seen a half century recovery following a marked decline in the 19th century due to commercial hunting of the walrus for it's oil, hides, and ivory. By the mid-20th century, commercial hunting was restricted and walrus populations began to recover.

While the Pacific walrus population is currently unknown, it is estimated to be in the relatively stable 200,000 range. It is important that protections be enacted to safeguard it's habitat and limit the degree to which the Earth's temperature continues to rise before it's too late. Please take action now and ask your Senator to pass a strong climate bill. For more information about climate change and endangered species, please visit the Endangered Species Coalition website.

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