Up to 200 Walruses Dead in Alaska as Arctic Sea Ice Reaches Third-lowest Level Recorded

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Shaye Wolf, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 632-5301

Up to 200 Walruses Dead in Alaska as Arctic Sea Ice Reaches Third-lowest Level Recorded

BOULDER, Colo. - The Arctic sea ice has reached the
third-lowest level ever recorded, and up to 200 walruses, which appear to be
mostly new calves and yearlings, have been reported dead near Icy Cape on the
north coast of Alaska - further evidence of global warming's brutal
transformation of the Arctic. Although the cause of the walruses' death has not
been confirmed, young walruses are vulnerable to being trampled to death in
stampedes when disappearing sea ice forces walruses to come ashore in large
numbers.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center
announced today that the Arctic summer sea-ice reached a minimum of 5.10 million
square kilometers (1.97 million square miles) on September 12, making 2009 the
third-lowest year on record behind 2007 (1.65 million square miles) and 2008
(1.74 million square miles). 

"The deaths of these walruses is another
wake-up call that we will lose the Arctic if we continue on our current course,"
said Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the
Center for Biological Diversity. "Every moment that Washington delays in taking strong action on climate
change, it robs the walrus, the Arctic, and
Arctic people of a future."

The rapid melting of sea ice due to climate
change is forcing the Pacific walrus, a well-known resident of the Arctic seas
between Alaska and Siberia, into a land-based existence for which it is not
adapted. In 2007, the early and extensive disappearance of summer sea ice pushed
females and calves onto the Russian and Alaskan coasts in abnormally dense
herds. Russian biologists reported that 3,000 to 4,000 walruses, mostly young
animals, died in 2007 after being crushed to death in stampedes. Last week, U.S.
Geological Survey researchers reported a large herd of 3,500 walruses on shore
near Icy
Cape, as sea ice
disappeared over their foraging grounds. 
 

The walrus, whose scientific name means
"tooth-walking sea horse," uses the ice as a platform from which to forage for
clams and mussels in the relatively shallow waters over the continental shelf.
Female walruses and their calves follow the sea ice year-round and rely on the
safety of ice floes for nursing their calves and as essential resting platforms
between foraging bouts, since they cannot continually swim. All Pacific walruses
are dependent on sea ice for breeding activities in winter.

On September 8, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service announced it would conduct a full status review to determine whether the
Pacific walrus warrants the protections of the Endangered Species Act.  The review must be completed by
September 10, 2010 under a court-ordered settlement in a case brought by the
Center for Biological Diversity to compel a response to its scientific petition
to protect the walrus.

The polar bear has also become an icon of
global warming as the melting of its sea-ice habitat causes individual bears to
drown, starve, and even resort to cannibalism.  The Polar Bear Specialist Group now
classifies eight of the world's polar bear populations, including both of
Alaska's
populations, as declining.  

In May 2008, the Fish and Wildlife Service
listed the polar bear throughout its range as "threatened," also in response to
a petition and lawsuit from the Center. 
The Center is currently challenging the failure to list the polar bear as
"endangered" based in part on U.S. government studies showing a
more than 77-percent chance of extinction for two-thirds of the world's polar
bears by mid-century, even under sea-ice projections that underestimate the rate
of sea-ice loss.  In 2007, there was
less ice in the Arctic than more than half the
world's leading climate models project will occur in 2050.

This summer, as the sea ice melted, the
House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act or
ACES. Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and John Kerry, D-Mass., are scheduled
to introduce the Senate version of this legislation later this month. 

"The climate bill needs to be significantly
strengthened," said Wolf.  "The
House legislation would not save the polar bear and the walrus and would give us
less than a 50/50 chance of achieving the greenhouse gas reductions scientists
say are necessary to head off devastating climate change. We can't flip a coin
with the fate of the planet." 

The Center for Biological Diversity is advocating for
a bill that sets an overall cap on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels of no more
than 350 parts per million, consistent with the best available science; works
with, rather than replaces, the Clean Air Act, which has successfully reduced
air pollution for 40 years and is one of our most powerful tools in fighting
global warming; and that eliminates or greatly reduces offsets and other
loopholes.

"The Arctic
is the Earth's early warning system," said Wolf.  "If Congress and the Obama
administration begin deep and rapid greenhouse pollution reductions now, we can
still avert some of the most serious global warming impacts.  But the rapid change underway in the
Arctic shows that time is running perilously short."

Current sea ice data is available at http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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