Some 40,000 walruses have appeared on the Russian Arctic coast, a phenomenon that scientists believe is a result of global warming melting Arctic sea ice.
According to WWF, this is the largest walrus haul out — areas where walruses rest when they are out of the water — registered in the Russian Arctic.
The area is currently being protected by the local community through the WWF-supported Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North. But more permanent protection, like a nature reserve, is needed to prevent walrus poaching and other threats to these large marine mammals.
“Because of climate change, ice is disappearing from the Chukchi and East Siberian seas during the summer months,” says Viktor Nikiforov, Director of WWF-Russia’s Regional Programmes.
“This means that in the coming years new haul outs will appear along the Chukotka Arctic coast.”
Walruses need thick sea ice to support their weight and the shallow waters of the coastal zone to feed. Unlike seals, they cannot swim indefinitely and must pause after foraging. As the warming climate in the Arctic reduces the thickness and expanse of the ice, it also reduces the walrus’ habitat.
“A nature reserve must be created to protect them,” urges Nikiforov. “Our common goal is to help walruses survive during this difficult time.”
Evidence points to a clear trend towards an overall warming in the Arctic. As a result, the sea ice thickness has been reduced by 40 percent in the last 30 years. Some models suggest that by 2080, or possibly earlier, arctic sea ice will completely disappear during the summer months.
There are two sub-species of the species: the Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens), found around Alaska and northeast Russia; and the Atlantic walrus (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus), found in the Canadian Arctic, in the waters of Greenland, Svalbard and the western portion of the Russian Arctic.
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