The Interior Department has decided that walruses are endangered enough to warrant protection—but it's not going to give it to them. The threat to the Pacific walrus from global warming reducing Arctic sea ice is very real, officials say, but limited government resources mean protection will have to wait until threats to other species have been addressed. "Where walruses fall on this priority system is they're a little bit low on the totem pole," an official tells NPR.
Officials argue that walruses, unlike polar bears, don't need sea ice to feed themselves. Biologists, however, warn that walruses use the sea ice for reproduction, and land is a dangerous substitute. "If they've got no ice, they've got to go on land. They go on land in the thousands," says a professor who has studied walruses for 50 years. "They get in these huge herds, and if they are disturbed in some way, they tend to rush into the sea, and they trample a lot of the animals. Calves get killed."