Global warming may be harming Pacific walrus, scientists say

Sun Oct 3, 2010 1:03pm GMT
 

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska Oct 3 (Reuters) - Move over, polar bear. The Pacific walrus may be the new icon of global warming.

Like polar bears, walruses are dependent on floating sea ice to rest, forage for food and nurture their young.

Like polar bears, walruses are suffering because of a scarcity of summer and fall sea ice in Arctic waters that scientists attribute to climate change.

And like polar bears, which were listed as threatened in 2008, protections under the Endangered Species Act may be granted to walruses, even though it is hard to get an accurate count of their population.

"You don't have to know how many passengers are on the Titanic to know it's in trouble when it hits an iceberg," said Rebecca Noblin, staff attorney for The Center for Biological Diversity, which sued to obtain Endangered Species Act safeguards for the walrus.

For the lumbering, long-tusked marine mammals, problems caused by scarce ice are showing up on beaches in northwestern Alaska and across the Bering Strait in northeastern Siberia.

For the third time in four years, large crowds of walruses have congregated this summer on shorelines of the Chukchi Sea instead of spreading over chunks of floating ice.

That ice has largely disappeared. This year, summer sea ice levels reached their third-lowest point since satellite measurements started in 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.   Continued...

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