(Andrew Revkin/New York Times, 2 October 2009) -- Half a century after Pacific walruses began recovering from industrial-scale hunting, marine biologists are growing worried that they face a mounting threat from global warming. Masses of lumbering walruses have been crowding on beaches and rocks along the Russian and American sides of the Bering Strait in the absence of the coastal sea ice that normally serves as a late-summer haven and nursery. While the retreats in sea ice around the Arctic this summer were not as extensive as in 2008 or 2007, the Chukchi Sea, at the heart of the walrus subspecies’ range, was largely open water. On Thursday, biologists from the United States Geological Survey issued a report concluding that 131 walruses found dead near Icy Cape, Alaska, on Sept. 14 died from being crushed or stampeded. Several thousand walruses had been congregating in the area, a situation that scientists from the agency said was highly unusual. Last month, a team from the World Wildlife Fund reported seeing 20,000 walruses on the shore at Cape Schmidt, Russia. In that same area, scientists in 2007 reported several thousand crushing deaths after tens of thousands of walruses crowded on the shoreline. Walruses have endured more than 15 million years of climatic ups and downs, so experts do not foresee the species’ becoming extinct, particularly if hunting remains controlled. (Thousands are legally killed each year by indigenous communities in both countries.) But there has been growing confirmation that the walrus is suffering substantial losses as the sheath of sea ice in coastal waters erodes in the summer.
Posted 6 October 2009; 11:41:20 AM. Permalink