When Arctic Sea Ice Melts, Shippers Win and Walruses Lose

By Aline Reynolds | September 11, 2009 3:35 pm

walrus-seaice-webArctic sea ice melting, which scientists have linked to global warming, may be a boon for the shipping industry. As the sea ice continues to melt a shipping passage to Russia’s north is becoming more navigable, and now two German ships are close to completing the first trip from Asia to Europe via the Arctic shortcut. However, walruses that live in the Arctic could care less, since their sea ice habitat is rapidly disappearing.

Thousands of walruses are congregating on Alaska’s northwest coast, a sign that their Arctic sea ice environment has been altered by climate change. Chad Jay, a U.S. Geological Survey walrus researcher, said Wednesday that about 3,500 walruses were near Icy Cape on the Chukchi Sea, some 140 miles southwest of Barrow [AP]. Walruses wear themselves out diving for clams, and need to rest on the sea ice between meals. Since the sea ice is disappearing, they are turning to the shore for a break. Federal managers and researchers worry that so many walruses in one location could lead to a deadly stampede or could drive off prey. Highlighting the animals’ peril, the Obama administration is considering adding walruses to the endangered species list. 

The melt is good news for shippers looking to haul cargo between Asia and the West since it’s thousands of miles shorter than southern routes like the Suez Canal. The two German ships are on track to be the first to travel the entire route, called the northeast passage. The ships started their voyage in South Korea in late July and will begin the last leg of the trip this week, leaving a Siberian port for Rotterdam in the Netherlands carrying 3,500 tons of construction materials…. [The ships were] accompanied for most of the trip so far by one or two Russian nuclear icebreakers as a precaution, although they encountered only scattered small floes. At the most perilous leg of the journey, the passage around the northernmost tip of Siberia, the Vilkitsky Strait, ice covered about half the sea. [The New York Times].

But even during the relatively low-sea-ice summer season, the route may not be quite ready for full time use. Navigating the international bureaucracies—the route follows the Russian coastline and requires a permit and fee—may turn out to be the most difficult task.

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Image: flickr / flickkerphotos

  • http://newsy.com Lauren

    It always disturb me to here of how animals are being affected by what humans are at least in part causing. Some still do not even believe just how much they are damaging the environment. I just seen this video that is pretty hard to ignore.

  • Klondike Bar

    Book your cruise now! You’ve worked your whole life to attain the status that you deserve. Don’t miss out on a golden opportunity to see the North Pole wihout leaving the comfort of your spacious cabin! 6 years from now you can tell friends and family how you saw a Polar Bear- swimming!

    Thank god I am not a breeder.

  • Sarah Posen

    There is a negative and a postitive way to view the Arctic sea melting. The negative way is that the walruses are losing the ice that they need to rest on inbetween meals. The positive way is, according t0 the article, “A shipping passage to Russia’s north is becoming more navigable” (paragraph 1).
    My opinion on this topic is that there’s no positive outcome on this matter. I mean, the walruses are losing their homes! It’s absurd! If this continues to happen, their species can eventually become endangered and possibly extinct. If this ever happens, the entire food chain will be affected. Although the scientists think it is a good thing the shippers can have a new shipping passage, there has to be a way around it that doesn’t affect the walruses.

  • Caitlin Monahan

    The Arctic Sea melting has both negative and positive consequences. For shippers, it is a more efficient sea route than other southern routes. The problem with the ice melting is that Arctic dwelling walruses are losing their natural habitat.

  • Caitlin Monahan

    I think that it is both negative and positive, depending on the way you look at it. The benefits towards the shippers is helpful to insuring human success as a species, but on the other hand, it could be the downfall for another species, the walrus. It is a sad thing to think about, and I do believe in respecting our natural environment, but if this type of walrus is supposed to survive, it will adapt. If it can’t adapt, it is added to the countless other species that were not survivors. The planet is constantly changing, whether of natural causes or of human-induced causes. Either way, life on Earth goes on. I personally do not think that peopple should be as disrespectful of our environment as we have been, but if we focus the success we have gained thus far as a species we should be able to save other species in the future.

  • jordan nissinoff

    Due to the global warming there is a decrease in the amount of solid ice in the Artic circle. This is great for the shippers, who get a big short cut going in this direction. The only negetive about the entire situation is that the Walreses need places to rest after spending most of there energy looking for pray.

    My opinion on the topic is that we can’t control the destruction that has already happened from global warming, but we can stop any more problems. We as a world need to come together to save the walreses. We need to put them on the endagered list and help to put the ice back into the artic. In many thousands of years the human population will be extinct from global warming if we don’t do somthing. So start now and save as many walreses and other artic animals that you can because every time you save one of them you are saving years on man kind.

  • Shannon Hancock

    Due to global warming the arctic sea ice is melting which is opening a northeast passage way from Asia to Europe. However, the ice melting means that walruses are dying.

    This occurrence effects the scientific community because there is a possibility of losing a whole species to global warming. If the walruses were to die off many food chains could possibly be messed up. Also, any research that walruses provide would have to be discontinued. Even if the passageway provides a much cheaper route to ship cargo, nothing can replace nature.

  • http://myspace.com carmisha

    it always make me feel funny when i here how animals are being treated what humans are at least in part causing. Some still do not even believe just how much they are damaging the environment. I just seen this video that is pretty hard to ignore.

  • http://johnsmith.com john

    i think animals should get a say in things and they should go to globalwarming fundraising and meetings to express themselves. also if you care so much you should make them a zoo in the arctic for artic animals only. animals should play poker for money to help pay for new ice caps from the ice cap store.

  • MNiceLady

    All we have to do is provide alternative platforms for the walruses to use. How about wood or cork.


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