WASHINGTON— Twelve scientists urged the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to promptly protect the Pacific walrus under the Endangered Species Act. The Center for Biological Diversity first submitted a petition to list the Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) as threatened or endangered in 2008, more than a decade ago.
Today’s letter was signed by experts in conservation biology, sea-ice melting, climate science, marine ecology and other related fields. The scientists note that Arctic warming driven by climate change is reducing the walrus’ sea ice habitat and presenting a dire threat to the survival of the species.
“It’s long past time for the government to protect the Pacific walrus under the Endangered Species Act,” said Kristin Carden, a senior scientist at the Center. “We’ve known for decades that the sea ice walruses rely on is melting at an alarming rate. The situation is only getting worse as the climate continues to warm, and we can’t let these iconic animals become the next victims of the global extinction crisis.”
The Service responded to the Center’s initial petition in 2011 with a finding that the walrus merited protection because of its shrinking habitat. But in 2017, the Trump administration reversed that decision, denying the walrus protections.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the denial in 2021, in response to a lawsuit, because the agency hadn’t adequately explained why the walrus was no longer under threat. The Service has yet to take action following the 9th Circuit’s decision, and the walrus remains vulnerable to threats from oil and gas extraction, shipping and climate change-induced habitat degradation.
The threats to the enormous tusked Pacific walrus have only grown since the initial petition as the climate warms and studies have shown that the Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the globe. The region has lost 40% of its summer sea ice over the past several decades, and the ice-free season has grown longer, making it difficult for the walruses to conduct courtship, give birth, raise their young, and rest during foraging and molting.
According to the scientists’ letter, models predict accelerating sea ice loss through at least the year 2100. Each metric ton of carbon released into the atmosphere causes three square meters of sea ice to disappear.
Endangered Species Act protection would require the federal government to designate critical habitat and mandate that it consider the threats and harms of federal approvals of oil and gas development and other greenhouse gas-emitting activities on the species. Additionally, protections under the Act would not interfere with subsistence uses.
Visit our sponsors
Wise (formerly TransferWise) is the cheaper, easier way to send money abroad. It helps people move money quickly and easily between bank accounts in different countries. Convert 60+ currencies with ridiculously low fees - on average 7x cheaper than a bank. No hidden fees, no markup on the exchange rate, ever.