Fact Sheet

Threats to Walruses

Historically, walruses were hunted commercially for their ivory tusks, oil and hides. Today they are hunted to a lesser degree.

The biggest threat facing walruses today is climate change. Walruses feed on the ocean floor in the relatively shallow waters of the continental shelf, where the sea ice itself sustains a rich food web. Algae grow in long trailing strands at the edge of the ice and in the nearby waters. These algae are eaten by tiny animals called zooplankton, which in turn feed larger animals. At every step along the way, particles of food and nutrients “rain” down onto the ocean floor, sustaining the massive beds of mollusks on which walruses feast.

Females with leave their young in safety on the sea ice while they forage, then haul out to nurse their calves. The accelerating retreat of sea ice puts the newborns’ safe haven farther away from the mothers’ food—meaning long, exhausting swims for the mothers, and more time alone for the calves.

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