The drastic changes in the Arctic wrought by global warming aren’t just threatening that icon of climate change the polar bear, they’re also jeopardizing the health of other species–like the Pacific walrus. Environmentalists petitioned the federal government years ago to add the walrus to the endangered species list, but progress on the case has been slow. Now, in a decision that has angered both activists and oil drillers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided that even though our be-blubbered friends deserve recognition under the Endangered Species Act, there are just too many other endangered animals to take care of first.
Specifically, the organization’s spokesman, Bruce Woods, said that protecting walruses was advised but “precluded.” That’s because other animals, like polar bears and certain species of sea birds, are more imperiled in this world of receding ice. The agency also said it’s hampered by lack of firm data on walrus population numbers.
“The main thing is that, compared to the polar bears, there are a lot of them,” Woods said of the Pacific walrus, adding that no baseline population count for the walrus exists…. “We don’t have any evidence of declines,” even if declines are suspected, he said. [Reuters]
The Agency’s decision has raised the ire of many.
This past summer was hot. Russia burned, New York City experienced the hottest summer on record, and residents of the northern hemisphere in general agreed that a cool breeze would be rather welcome. Now more extensive climate data is coming in for 2010, and guess what? Scientists have confirmed that it was hot.
According to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the first 8 months of 2010 is the warmest such January-to-August period in climate records stretching back 131 years. This period was nearly 0.7˚C warmer than the average temperature from 1951 to 1980. (NOAA announced roughly the same finding today, using many of the same temperature stations but a different analysis method.) [ScienceNOW]
Researchers say that El Nino conditions in the Pacific Ocean are partly to blame for raising temperatures globally this past year. But, of course, man-made climate change is the larger culprit. This summer the Arctic sea ice shrank very quickly because the ice was already thin; at the end of the summer melt the Arctic ice area was the third smallest on record.
At its smallest extent, on 10 September, 4.76 million sq km (1.84 million sq miles) of Arctic Ocean was covered with ice — more than in 2007 and 2008, but less than in every other year since 1979. [BBC]
Arctic 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.