I am the walrus and I Guess I’m doing fine …
Editor’s note: This article was originally published to the ACC’s online magazine website (www.acclive.com) in October, 2014. It has been moved to the Coalblog as part of our redesign of our online publications.
By Jason Hayes
“I am the walrus, Goo goo g’joob …”
Proof of that came with the publications of a frightening media release from the World Wildlife Fund and a report from NOAA. Both of these publications have encouraged a rush of media comment and articles, that argue climate change and retreating Arctic ice are unnaturally stressing walrus populations, thereby forcing them to “haul out” (or congregate) in massive groups on ice-free beaches. Ominous statements infect the articles and paint a bleak and foreboding picture for these ostensibly (climactically) oppressed pinnipeds.
…the (hauling out) phenomenon is no grand jubilee: The reason for the walrus gathering is bleak. The flippered marine mammals are changing their habits because of climate change, environmentalists say.
“Environmentalist say” is the rallying cry for a never-ending barrage of social and political change, and it appears that society is being prepped for further changes. I’m guessing that “Do it for the … walruses” will be displacing “the children,” or “Gaia mother Earth” as tomorrow’s new charge.
Fortunately for those beached titans, our elected officials, and (yes, even) our very way of life, Marc Morano’s ClimateDepot.com article today takes a cool-headed look at the historical data around the issue. Morano’s words apply a soothing balm to the sunburnt skin of these allegedly overheated behemoths and reassures the world that walruses should be with us for a little longer.
According to the New York Times, “the Pacific walrus remains abundant, numbering at least 200,000 by some accounts, double the number in the 1950s.”
But … editorials are claiming haulouts as positive proof that desperate odobenids have been forced off of disappearing arctic ice flows, out of their watery homes, and onto a sun-baked beach. Could it be that these frantic reports are a teensy bit overwrought?
The media and green groups are implying that walrus hanging out by the tens of thousands is a new phenomenon and due to melting Arctic ice. But dating back to at least the 1604, there have been reports of large walrus gatherings or haulouts. …
Even the green activists group, the WWF, admits walrus ‘hangouts’ of tens of thousands are not unprecedented.
A 2009 WWF blog report noted: “WWF Polar Bear coordinator Geoff York returned on 17 September from a trip along the Russian coast and saw a haul out there with an estimated 20,000 walruses near Ryrkaipiy (on the Chukchi Peninsula).”
There are also horrific reports of stampedes occurring as a result of the haulouts, as well as trampled walruses that will surely demonstrate the damaging effects of climate change and our need to abandon fossil fuels. But Morano’s report quotes previous stories, from the same media outlets, that described haulouts and much larger stampedes/deaths in previous years. Morano even manages to highlight green industry claims that trampled walruses were a boon to polar bear populations. In a 2007 WWF post, the group noted,
In early winter, when the ice is re-forming and walruses leave the beach, up to 100 carcasses remain behind. These blubbery animals offer a perfect meal for wandering and hungry polar bears… At one time alone, Sergey and his team counted 96 bears feeding on the walrus. In total they estimated that 185 bears had been circulating with a six mile radius around the village. (Ed. note: the WWF appears to have pulled that report off of their servers after Morano’s piece was published.)
Morano continues by quoting research that shows walrus populations naturally “tend to migrate away from the ice” during the non-reproductive season to “form massive aggregations of tens of thousands of individuals.” But this is the very behavior that media outlets are (today) linking with climate change. That (perfectly normal) behavior is actually so well recognized by wildlife managers and biologists that the state of Alaska had set aside entire islands as natural reserves for the walrus in the 1960s.
“The Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary (WISGS), protects a group of seven small craggy islands and their adjacent waters in northern Bristol Bay, approximately 65 miles southwest of Dillingham. The WISGS includes Round Island, Summit Island, Crooked Island, High Island, Black Rock and The Twins. The WISGS was established in 1960 to protect one of the largest terrestrial haulout sites in North America for Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens).”
Morano also notes the haulout phenomenon is so well recognized that the oral traditions of indigenous cultures describe how haul outs were relied on as a means to make the annual fall walrus hunt “a highly organized activity” that promoted “clean and efficient butchering.”
So the articles that are splashing across the media, as a creative new means of pushing the climate change issue, appear to be well-meaning but misguided efforts to link everything (up to and including Aunt Tilley’s bunions) to climate change (or global warming, or climate disruption, or …). As Morano’s report (and the numerous other sources he cites) indicate, walrus haul-outs are a natural, normal, expected, and healthy behavior. They have been happening for as long as we have records and, given the estimated world population of some 200,000 to 250,000, we can expect them to continue well into the future.
I opened with the Beatles, so it only makes sense to close with Bob Dylan, who appears to have channeled the challenged, but still indomitable spirit of the walrus.
… But I’m still around somehow
Many times I’ve bended
But I ain’t never yet bowed
Hey, hey, so I guess I’m doin’ fine.
Jason Hayes is the Associate Director of the American Coal Council and Editor-in-Chief of American Coal magazine.