02:00 PM

Administration fails to shield Arctic wildlife from the devastating impacts of climate change

Pacific walrus denied endangered species status


  • The Obama administration yesterday announced it will not list the Pacific walrus under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Fish and Wildlife Service has determined the species is “warranted but precluded,” a delay in listing allowed by the ESA if the agency feels that other imperiled species are a higher priority.
  • Climate change is causing sea ice in both the Bering and Chukchi Seas to disappear at an alarming rate, diminishing important Pacific walrus habitat and availability of prey and increasing the chances of deadly stampedes.
  • In addition to shrinking sea ice, foreseeable harm to walrus populations includes increased shipping, potential oil spills and ocean acidification, which will further reduce the walrus’ prey base of clams and other shellfish.
WASHINGTON (02/09/2011) -

The following is a statement by Bob Irvin, senior vice president of conservation programs for Defenders of Wildlife:

“By melting Arctic sea ice on which Pacific walrus and other wildlife depend, climate change is stacking the deck against their ability to survive. As Pacific walrus habitat shrinks, it becomes harder to find food and the animals are forced to crowd together in fewer areas, increasing the risk of deadly stampedes. With all of these threats, the life of a Pacific walrus is pretty tough. Today’s decision just made it tougher, failing to provide the help Pacific walrus will need to survive the impacts of global climate change.”


• Pacific walruses prefer to spend the majority of the year resting on sea ice, but typically gather on shore in the fall months. Scientists are finding that these animals are now gathering in unusually large numbers at fewer haulout locations, and are arriving much earlier than in previous years.  This trend is resulting in increased incidences of often deadly stampedes. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported in 2009 that 131 walruses, mostly calves and yearlings, were trampled to death in Alaska by other walruses.
• Increasing stampedes coupled with the continued loss of Arctic sea ice means Pacific walruses are facing increased nutritional and physical stress since they have to use more energy to locate and obtain food.
• Defenders is co-sponsoring a Pacific walrus remote camera monitoring project, placing five cameras at a walrus haulout location. The goal of the project is to record haulout disturbances and what the causes are and how long they last.


Learn more about how the Arctic meltdown is impacting walruses

See how Defenders is working to protect walruses and other wildlife from the threat of climate change



Caitlin Leutwiler, (202) 772, 3226, cleutwiler@defenders.org