Endangered status for Pacific walrus?

February 8, 2008 12:42:49 PM PST
Scientists from the Climate Program at the Center for Biological Diversity have filed a petition requesting endangered species status for the Pacific walrus, a center biologist in San Francisco said.

The petition was filed Thursday with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act, which will allow the service 90 days to consider action on the petition, said Shaye Wolf, a biologist in the climate program for the center, a conservation nonprofit organization based in Arizona.

The Pacific walrus lives in the Bering and Chukchi seas between Alaska and Siberia, and relies heavily on sea ice year round, according to Wolf. Global warming has diminished sea ice during summer months, causing problems for the walruses that use the ice for breeding, raising calves and resting between foraging for food, Wolf said.

Last summer, scientists saw female and young walruses exit out of the water onto land when the sea ice disappeared. Thousands of calves were trampled by large herds of walruses on land, according to Wolf. Some of the walruses were also kept from their foraging grounds, and some young were abandoned at sea though usually inseparable from their mothers, Wolf said.

"Summer sea ice is rapidly disappearing and is projected to be gone as early as 2012. We know that it is going to get worse," Wolf said.

Species can be listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but the center has requested endangered status for the growing list of arctic species troubled by the effects of global warming, Wolf said.

The Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Program has sought endangered status for several species that rely on sea ice, including the polar bear, 12 penguin species, and the ribbon seal, according to Wolf.

"Of all the places where we're seeing the effects of global warming, the effects and impacts of global warming are really accelerating in the arctic. So for the Pacific walrus, the polar bear, and the other ice-dependent seals in the arctic we're really worried because the projection for the sea ice is really grim," Wolf said.

If the Fish and Wildlife Service determines the petition to add the walruses to the endangered species list is merited, a scientific analysis of the species will be conducted for a year, Wolf said.