Global Warming May Mean An Endangered Species Listing For The Pacific Walrus. Photo:NOAA
Global Warming May Mean An Endangered Species Listing For The Pacific Walrus. Photo:NOAA

Like its predator, the polar bear, the Pacific walrus is being profoundly affected by the diminishing amount of sea ice due to global warming. Less ice means fewer places for walruses to rest and to bear and raise their young, and the Feds are now studying whether the large Arctic creatures should join polar bears on the Endangered Species (ESA) list.

Walrus May Join Polar Bear On Endangered Species List Because Of Global Warming

In reaction to a petition and subsequent lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity the US Fish & Wildlife Service has agree to consider extending Endangered Species Act protection to the Pacific walrus.

Although there is no accurate population count for the walruses, which live along the Arctic and subArctic coastlines of Alaska and Northeastern Russia, the Center for Biological Diversity presented evidence that the species is declining because global warming is causing its sea-ice habitat to shrink and pull away from the shorelines near which walruses feed and breed. Walruses depend on floating sea ice as places to rest and to raise and bear their young and as floating platforms from which to dive for shellfish. The ice moves with the prevailing currents and constantly presents the walruses with fresh shellfish beds.

When ice retreats to waters that are too deep for foraging, walruses are forced to crowd together on land where smaller animals are often crushed to death by larger ones. In addition, land-bound walruses can eventually exhaust their available food resources and are also more vulnerable to predators.

In early 2008, The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned USF&W to consider placing the Pacific walrus on the federal list of endangered species. At the end of the year, the Center filed a lawsuit because the agency had missed its 90-day deadline for responding to the petition. But USF&W recently agreed that the Center had presented sufficient evidence to warrant a detailed study of the animal’s status.

The polar bear, which is already under ESA (as well as international) protection, is another arctic species that is struggling due to a loss of sea ice caused by global climate change. Polar bears hunt seals by stalking them on the ice. When ice is scarce they must return to land, where food resources are limited and the animals often starve for long periods. There have been reports of polar bears killing and eating other polar bears because of starvation brought on by the climate-driven changes in their seal-hunting habitat.

Between 20,000 and 25,000 polar bears remain in the wild.

Read the USFWS report on possible walrus listing.

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