Should Walruses Be Protected?

Tourists who want to view Alaska's Pacfic walrus may want to do it sooner rather than later. The Interior Department has decided that global warming is threatening the Pacific walrus, but will not put it on the endangered species list quite yet.

The decision will be reviewed in one year. But it's angering the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned the Interior Department two years ago to put the walrus on the endangered species list, reports NPR.

Shaye Wolf, the group's climate science director, is considering suing the department to make it move more quickly on the issue, according to reports.

"Delaying protection for the walrus means that we increase the chances of losing the walrus forever," Wolf says.

But Rosa Meehan, who manages marine mammals in Alaska for the Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service, says while there's no question that walrus numbers will be reduced as sea ice declines in northern Alaska, the condition of walruses is less dire than say, polar bears, because they live a long time and still are numerous.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) says in a statement it is premature to list the walrus until "we have verifiable science which shows that the projected loss of habitat does endanger a currently healthy species."

NPR reports the senator also says listing the walrus as an endangered species stands to hurt native Alaskans who hunt walruses and could limit tourism, which is important for the state's economy.

It could jeopardize plans to explore for oil in the Chukchi Sea. "It adds to the delay, it adds to the cost and it limits development," Murkowski says.

The Pacific walrus is currently protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Tourists can view walruses in Alaska including at the Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary.

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