With tusks like an elephant and the body of an overgrown seal, the Pacific walrus is one blubbery beast. This ungainly animal, often gathered en masse on rocky beaches or seen riding ice floes, dives into the water and rhythmically transforms into a wave gliding through the sea, completely at home in its arctic environment. Unfortunately, global warming has dramatically altered arctic marine ecosystems, significantly reducing the sea ice Pacific walruses needs for resting, socialization, giving birth and nursing young. As walruses' icy abode melts away, their habitat is being auctioned off to oil companies to extract more fossil fuels.

The Center is working to protect the Pacific walrus from the double-barreled threats of oil development and global warming. In February 2008, we petitioned to protect the walrus under the Endangered Species Act, making it the third Arctic species we had sought to protect, following the polar bear and ribbon seal. When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to respond to our petition, we filed suit in December — but in February 2011, after the Service declared the walrus indeed deserved federal protection, it relegated the mammal to the “candidate list,” delaying that protection indefinitely. We filed a notice of intent to sue over that decision two months later.

We’ve also filed suit to overturn regulations issued under the Marine Mammal Protection Act that give the oil industry a blank check to harass walruses in the Beaufort Sea, and we’re fighting similar regulations in the Chukchi Sea.

The Center and allies have successfully blocked efforts by Shell Oil to begin exploratory drilling in the Beaufort Sea; we’ve since filed suit over plans to lease 30 million acres of walrus habitat in the Chukchi Sea. Given our society’s addiction to oil, virtually all Pacific walrus habitat will be on the auction block in the years to come.