Maddeningly, I just missed Thor, the walrus, at Blyth on Tuesday. The animal, which appeared before a large crowd at Scarborough on New Year’s Day, had already headed north.
Walrus sightings in British waters were once vanishingly rare: one in 1988, one in 2013, then one in 2018. Two turned up in 2021 (Wally and Freya) and now Thor. What’s going on? [emphasis, links added]
A common knee-jerk reaction is to say Thor is a climate-change refugee.
“We think he’s visiting due to climate change,” Molly Gray, rescue and community co-ordinator of British Divers Marine Life Rescue, told The Northern Echo. “Walruses live in the Arctic and we think because the ice caps are melting, that’s why he’s traveled so far south.”
The reason for the recent British “walrush” is that walruses are doing well, not badly. There are many more of them.
When I first visited Svalbard in the Norwegian Arctic in 1978, there were fewer than 100 walruses there, mainly males. A survey in 2018 found more than 5,500, including increasing numbers of females with calves.
The Russians estimate the walrus population on Franz Josef Land has reached the level it was before humans started hunting them.
It’s the same in Greenland and the Bering Strait, where the larger Pacific walruses are once again hauling out on beaches in their thousands as they did for millennia.
When Netflix showed footage of walruses falling to their deaths off a cliff in Siberia in 2019, Sir David Attenborough’s voiceover blamed climate change. It later emerged that a polar bear had stampeded the animals off the cliff.
Living near the edge of the pack ice, walruses need access to open water and have long-used haul-outs on land when summer ice retreats.
Arctic sea ice has declined hardly at all in winter since 2002, and by about 20 percent in late summer. Walruses got through the Holocene climatic optimum, 6,000-10,000 years ago, when Swedish scientists say the Arctic experienced a “regime dominated by seasonal ice, ie, ice-free summers.”
On South Georgia, fur seals have bounced back from the brink of extinction to reach more than four million. Elephant seals and king penguins have also boomed. All because we stopped killing them for food, fuel, and fashion.
Matt Ridley’s most recent book is Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19. He is a member of the GWPF’s Academic Advisory Council
Read rest at The Times
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