Pacific Walrus: On Thin Ice

Publication Name

Audubon Magazine

Author(s)

Alisa Opar

On a boat in the frigid Arctic waters of the Chukchi Sea, crossbow at the
ready, Chad Jay goes in search of his quarry: Pacific walrus. The tusked creatures, each weighing about
1,900 pounds, appear through the fog, crowded on expanses of sea ice. Jay and
colleagues are here not to kill them, but to learn about these charismatic
animals as their habitat rapidly changes. The summer sea ice they rest on and
feed from is melting fast and is expected to disappear entirely by 2030.
Consequently, open waters in the warming Arctic are making way for unprecedented
shipping and offshore oil exploration—possibly in critical habitat for walruses
and other Arctic wildlife.

More knowledge about the ecosystem is critical. In 2011, a USGS report found that there are scientific gaps in how energy
development on the outer continental shelf will affect wildlife. The government
should, thus, gather more data about marine life in the Beaufort and Chukchi
seas and ensure that the most sensitive areas aren’t harmed, concluded a
paper
released in September by the Pew Environment Group and the Ocean
Conservancy.

“We can make better decisions if we don’t treat the Chukchi as one big place
entirely open to drilling,” says Henry
Huntington
, science director of Pew’s
Arctic program
. He’d like to see the most important areas taken off the list
of places open to exploration. While noise disturbances from drilling activities
are bad enough, Huntington says an oil spill could be devastating, given how
remote the waters are. “With the Gulf spill, there were ports, highways, [and]
airports nearby, and responding to it was still hugely challenging. In the
Chukchi, there are zero roads [and] little infrastructure to help mount a
sizeable effort,” he says. “And, god forbid, what would happen if there were a
spill near the end of the drilling season, with daylight rapidly fading and sea
ice about to start forming?”

http://www.pewenvironment.org/news-room/media-coverage/on-thin-ice-85899366309

Read the full article, On
Thin Ice
, on the Audubon Magazine website

 

Photo: Wikipedia

 

File:Noaa-walrus22.jpg
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~ by narhvalur on November 14, 2011.

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