Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What Are The Walruses Telling Us?

Have you ever heard the expression "a canary in a coal mine"? Early coal mines did not have ventilation systems, so miners would bring a caged canary into new coal seams. Canaries are especially sensitive to methane and carbon monoxide, which made them ideal for detecting any dangerous gas build-ups. As long as the canary in a coal mine kept singing, the miners knew their air supply was safe.

Many species that are threatened or endangered act in the same way for us - signaling dangers in our environment before we can actually sense them ourselves.

This year, researchers flying along the Alaska coast discovered 100 to 200 walrus carcasses along the shoreline of Icy Cape, southwest of Barrow, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Thousands of walrus forming unusual congregations on Alaska’s North Slope seems to indicate that the relatively low autumn ice coverage within arctic water is another indicator of climate change.

While debate on climate change continues, during September, Arctic sea ice had receded to the third lowest extent on record.

Those walruses who have gathered along the northwest coast of Alaska saw the sea ice retreat beyond the continental shelf. When that occurs, it is over water too deep for the walruses to feed in and they are forced to feed from land rather than from the sea ice.

In September, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced a review of the walrus’ status, to determine whether it should be added to the list of threatened and endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. According to the FWS, the decision was based “in part, upon projected changes in sea ice habitats associated with climate change.”


Riddle of 200 dead walruses discovered on the Alaskan shore

What happens when sea ice melts