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REUTERS: U.S. environmental group seeks protection for walrus

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A zoo employee plays with a walrus during celebrations marking the zoo’s 23th birthday in Minsk, August 11, 2007. REUTERS/Vladimir Nikolsky

Fri Feb 8, 2008 6:49am GMT
By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – An environmental group filed a petition on Thursday seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the Pacific walrus, an iconic Arctic marine mammal dependent on shrinking sea ice.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed the petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, citing the impact of global warming to the icy habitat used by walrus especially nursing mothers and calves that need ice shelves to rest and nurse.

“The walrus is an Arctic species and it’s dependent on the sea ice for a lot of its behavior,” said Shaye Wolf, a San Francisco-based biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Disappearing sea ice in shallow waters used by walrus to rest and forage for food has forced many of the animals to crowd onto land, Wolf said. On land, they are more at risk from predators and stampedes triggered by noise or other perceived threats.

Pacific walrus are also at risk from new oil development. The U.S. Minerals Management Service held a record-breaking oil and gas lease on Wednesday for a wide swath of the Chukchi Sea off Alaska.

This lease sale, which drew a record $2.66 billion in high bids including $2.1 billion from Shell, also poses a risk to walrus, according to the petition.

The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking Endangered Species Act listing for polar bears and ribbon seals, citing global warming dangers.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is due to issue its decision sometime this month on whether the polar bear should be listed as threatened.

A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman in Anchorage said the agency expects to respond to the walrus petition within 90 days, the guideline for such initial reviews.

Pacific walrus are found in the waters between western Alaska and Russia. The global population estimate of Pacific walrus, last issued in 1992 based on the cooperative efforts of U.S. and Soviet scientists, put the population at 200,000.

(Editing by Sandra Maler)

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