Walruses the latest climate refugees


B. McPherson

The world is witnessing the impact that climate warming is having on the walrus population off Alaska’s north west coast. NOAA conducting marine mammal surveys in the area noted a massive haul out of walruses. The beach near Point Lay Alaska is estimated to hold about 35 000 walruses. Mixed together are mature males, much smaller females and babies.

Normally the walruses would rarely come ashore, preferring to whelp and rest on ice floes in the Chukchi Sea. Resting on floating ice gives the animals a safe place to leave their pups while the adult dives up to 200 feet below the surface in search of shellfish and marine worms.

Since 2007 scientists have observed more walruses hauling out on remote beaches, a behavior that has coincided with the retreat of summer ice in the Arctic.

This change in behavior is hard on the walruses. It takes them far away from the prime hunting grounds. The pups risk being crushed from overcrowding or a stampede. They are vulnerable to attack by bears.

Walrus haul outs are also noted off the Russian coast as well.

In N. America walruses are generally safe from hunting. Inuit hunters are exempt from the restrictions but must not take so many as to be wasteful. Hunting of walruses for their ivory is deemed wasteful.  A purveyor of exotic goods in Canada Polar Exotics sells walrus tusks obtained legally from Inuit hunters. The asking price of those advertised ranges in the $300 – 450 price range. They may not be imported into the USA or Mexico. Other countries have differing regulations.

Sources:
The Telegraph       

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