The Walrus, Symbol of the Arctic Ecosystem, Finds Itself on Thin Ice

"For generations, Yupik and Inupiat hunters have depended on the Pacific walrus. They ate the walrus' meat and whittled its bones into tools. Walrus skin covered their boats, and walrus intestines, stitched into raincoats, covered their backs. Today, the walrus is still an important part of the subsistence diet in villages along Alaska's Chukchi and Bering sea coasts, and Native Alaskans sell handcrafts made from walrus ivory.

But as the Arctic warms, the landscape upon which both walruses and people depend is changing.

The behavior of sea ice is no longer predictable. Perhaps the best illustration of that came in the summer of 2007, when the Arctic's sea ice cover hit a record low, shattering the previous record by 460,000 square miles -- an area the size of Texas and California combined.

Changing habits of polar bears have drawn most of the attention, but walruses, which depend on drifting summer sea ice as a base for hunting and transportation through the Bering Strait, are changing, too. They are sheltering more on land in Alaska and Siberia."

Lauren Morello reports for ClimateWire August 10, 2010.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010