Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
After Comprehensive Review, Service Determines Pacific Walrus Does Not Require Endangered Species Act Protection

October 4, 2017

Contact(s):

Andrea Medeiros, Andrea_Medeiros@fws.gov, (907) 786-3695



The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that the Pacific walrus does not require protection as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The finding follows a comprehensive review and analysis of the best available scientific information concerning the species, as well as local and traditional ecological knowledge of Alaska Native peoples.

The Pacific walrus is found throughout the continental shelf waters of the Bering and Chukchi seas and occasionally in the East Siberian Sea and Beaufort Sea. In its review, the Service paid particular attention to the impact to the species of the ongoing loss of sea ice in the walrus’s range.

While walruses use sea ice for a variety of activities, including breeding, birthing, resting and avoiding predators, they have shown an ability to adapt to sea ice loss that was not foreseen when the Service last assessed the species in 2011. Given these behavioral changes, the Service determined that it could not predict, with confidence, future behavioral responses of the species beyond 2060. Accordingly, that date was used as the limit for determining whether the walrus was likely to become endangered within the “foreseeable future,” under the ESA. Beyond that time, predicting behavioral responses becomes too speculative to be considered best available science for the purposes of a listing determination.

"Our decision not to list the Pacific walrus under the Endangered Species Act at this time is based on a rigorous evaluation of the best available science, which indicates the population appears stable, and the species has demonstrated an ability to adapt to changing conditions," said Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Greg Sheehan. “If future circumstances warrant or new information comes to light, we can and will re-evaluate the Pacific walrus for ESA protection. In the meantime, the species will continue to be federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act."

Other stressors that were identified in 2011, including subsistence harvest, have declined. The Pacific walrus population appears to be approaching stability with reproductive and survival rates that are higher than in the 1970s–1980s.

The Pacific walrus will continue to receive protection in the U.S. under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Protections afforded under the MMPA include prohibitions on the harvest, import, and export of the Pacific walrus or walrus products, except by Alaska Natives for subsistence and handicraft creation and sale. In addition to monitoring the population, the Service will continue to work with the State of Alaska, coastal communities and other partners to conserve the Pacific walrus population and minimize the impacts of stressors where possible.

The decision today is the Service’s final action regarding a petition submitted to the agency in 2008 to list the Pacific walrus. For more information regarding this decision, please visit: https://www.fws.gov/alaska/fisheries/mmm/walrus/esa.htm.


The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit http://www.fws.gov/. Connect with our Facebook page, follow our tweets, watch our YouTube Channel and download photos from our Flickr page.