How Walruses Are Helping in the Fight Against Climate Change

Climate change has already made life difficult for a lot of species, not the least of which is the walrus. Due to the melting ice, walruses are rapidly losing their natural Arctic habitat. Although things look bleak for walruses at the moment, the good news is that the marine mammal is simultaneously helping to fight against climate change by inadvertently blocking oil drilling.

Later this month, Shell was set to move forward on opening new rigs in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwestern coast. Now, the oil corporation has been dealt a last minute blow: at least one of their drilling sites cannot be constructed in order to protect the walruses.

Shell thought it was in compliance with federal regulations, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service objected. Shell planned for two of its drilling sites to be situated just nine miles apart from each other. However, the government agency says that it requires that these stations be a minimum of 15 miles apart to safeguard walruses.

As scientists have previously discovered, walruses are frightened by the presence and loud noises of oil drilling. They’ve observed some walruses take dangerous leaps off rocks when startled by drilling sounds, which is why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to enforce a 15-mile buffer. If the sites are too close, walruses will have little room to escape the unpleasant noise.

Given that Shell has already spent billions “exploring” the area for future oil drilling, this is undoubtedly a setback for the company. A Shell spokesperson indicated that it would verify the legality of this regulation, but also intended to comply with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s rule.

Environmental groups have complained that the U.S. government seems to be doing what it can to help Shell expedite the drilling process — even the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management with the Interior Department gave its approval — so this walrus curveball is a welcome impediment. The hope is even small obstacles might stall the drilling long enough that other agencies will have the time necessary to find other reasons that Arctic drilling is not in compliance with environmental and ethical policy.

While pro-business advocates are predictably unimpressed with altering Shell’s plans to cater to walruses, walruses certainly deserve to catch a break. The animal, which traditionally resides on icebergs in small numbers have started coming to shore because of a lack of ice available to lounge on, sometimes gathering 10,000 at a time. The risk of disease and stampede are increased in this proximity, so this new habitat is not a healthy alternative.

Although the walrus rule won’t prevent Shell from drilling off the Alaskan coast altogether, even reducing the number of oilrig sites is a positive step. If the walrus – and many of the earth’s creatures, honestly – are to have a fighting shot at surviving, carbon emissions need to be reduced, which starts with most of the world’s remaining oil supply remaining below the surface.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

62 comments

Mark Donners
Mark Donner1 years ago

Shell committed genocide and ecocide in Nigeria. What would they care about wildlife? The firing squad should be brought back as the fitting punishment for oil company executives.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H2 years ago

Kate K. You are right to be cynical of the USFWdis-Service. They are a crooked agency easily bought off by the highest bidder. Look at wolves, bison, wild horses. All have lost to money. The dis-Service is just paying lip service to make us "think" they are actually concerned about the Arctic and sealife. They will inexplicably cave and Shell will have its' way to destroy the only pristine place left on earth.

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Grace Adams
Grace Adams2 years ago

We will probably need to support incomes of too big to fail fossil fuel firms as they find some other way to make a living, pay them as much to KEEP IT IN THE GROUND as they make now extracting fossil fuel and selling it to be burned. They want to drill for geothermal. I would like to see geothermal electric replace fossil fuel as much as possible. There isn't enough to entirely replace fossil fuel, but making good use of what there is would help.

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Georgina Elizab McAlliste
.2 years ago

ALL DRILLING SHOULD BE STOPPED, IT IS MUCH TO DANGEROUS FOR ALL SEA CREATURES...
explore.com to see walruses at Round Island

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Summerannie M.
Summerannie M2 years ago

Top job to the walrus!

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Janis K.
Janis K2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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M s
M s2 years ago

i loathe shell oil and all it stands for All oil companies need to go bankrupt and good bye Our own government is selling us out for money Once the arctic is polluted,there's no turning back All sea life will die and stupid ,selfish idiotic humans caused it

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Telica Randall-Fraser
Telica R2 years ago

Thanks

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Dawn E.
Dawn E2 years ago

Good job walruses! The sites should be even farther apart!

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