February 8, 2008

Group Files Petition to Save Pacific Walrus

Pacific Walruses may soon see themselves on the Endangered Species List.

On Thursday, the Center for Biological Diversity filed to get the walrus listed under the Endangered Species Act because of the potential damage to the species caused by the effects of global warming on their habitat.

The sea ice these animals use in the summer as a place to rest and eat is melting at an alarming rate. The creatures are also threatened by development of gas and oil near their home.

The Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, Alaska has 90 days to decide if the petition contains "substantial information." If it does, a status review must be performed on the walruses within 9 months, possibly putting them on the list in approximately a year.

The recent trend has been the recession of sea ice. Since 1979, when satellite measurements began, the sea ice has receded to 1.65 million square miles. This is the lowest level yet; in September the amount of sea ice was 39 percent lower than the average over the past 3 decades.

This has a great effect on the walruses who typically feed from offshore ice. The walrus can not swim for incredibly long periods, so they typically use the ice like a diving platform and ride it to their foraging destinations.

In the Chukchi Sea, in the Arctic Ocean, water receded past the continental shelf, moving the walruses too far out over water too deep to dive into to reach clams, which they consume in large amounts "“ 200 pounds a day per adult walrus.

Once the water receded, 6,000 walruses abandoned their ice and ventured to the north shore of Alaska. Nearly 40,000 walruses ended up on the Russian shore. Approximately 3,000 to 4,000 young walruses were trampled when herds stampeded into the water after being threatened by various predators.

The stampedes aren't the only problem. If the trend continues as it currently is, the walruses will put pressure on coastal foraging activity and deplete food sources, as the food is not as plentiful as the offshore areas they once reached by icepack.

Petroleum development is also likely to have an affect on the creature. Over two and a half million acres of the Chukchi Sea bottom have been sold for petroleum development and at least five other sales are expected in the next four years. This, plus an increase in shipping routes pose threats to the walruses as far as pollution.

If the walrus is listed under the Endangered Species Act, the areas of the Arctic would be more strictly regulated in regards to elements that might harm the walrus.

Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the conservation group and lead author of the petition said, ""The Pacific walrus is an early victim of our failure to address global warming. As the sea ice recedes, so does the future of the Pacific walrus."

One group of researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center said the complete loss of summer sea ice can be expected by the year 2030. Scientists at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, claim that this could happen as early as 2013.


On the Net:

The petition is available at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org.