Shoreline of Round Island, Alaska covered with sunbathing Walruses. Image via: Getty Images.
Polar bears and penguins both have gained notoriety as the helpless victims of climate change. Penguins even got several movie deals out of it. This summer, thousands of walruses are making their home on Alaska's northwest shore no thanks to receding sea ice in the Arctic, reports the Buffalo News. While it is normal for the animals to come ashore periodically during the summer, scientists have never noticed them come ashore so early or in such large populations. A researcher with the US Geological Survey said that this is in part due to sea ice retreating off of the continental shelf, which is thanks to climate change. Now here's the bad part - too many walruses in too close an area leads to deadly stampedes and throws the balance of nature off with too many mouths eating all of the food that is close to shore.
More About the Walrus
Walrus typically dive for food that is only 330 feet or less below the surface, though they are known to dive up to 600 feet. The problem with the receding ice is that the walruses need to rest between dives and depths can reach up to 10,000 feet past the continental ice shelf. Thus, swimming to ice flows beyond the shelf, with flows further and further apart, means the walruses are not able to catch clams on the sea floor (too deep) and they have no place to rest in between dives.
In 2007, scientists also noticed walruses congregating on the shorelines of Alaska and Russia (there were tens of thousands along the shoreline in Russia). All of these massive congregations led to stampedes, which often killed the young (thus also harming the future of the species).
What Is Being Done to Protect the Walrus?
Pilots in the area are being warned away from these areas as their planes can also trigger stampedes.The Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned the US government to list the walrus as endangered or threatened due to habitat loss from global warming. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has also begun a 60 day review, which includes a public comment period, with their final listing decision available October 2010. The Interior Secretary will make the ultimate final decision October 2011. If things go their way, maybe the walrus will also see its face plastered across the big screen. :Buffalo News
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