WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- U.S. wildlife officials say Pacific walrus warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, but higher-priority species have left them on a waiting list.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday the Pacific walrus, Odobenus rosmarus divergens, will be added to the agency's list of candidates for Endangered Species Act protection and its future status will be reviewed annually, Environment News Service reported.
The service's determination, known as a 12-month finding, says the walrus is primarily threatened by the loss of sea ice in its arctic habitat due to climate change.
"The threats to the walrus are very real, as evidenced by this 'warranted' finding," Geoff Haskett, the service's director of the Alaska region, said. "But its greater population numbers and ability to adapt to land-based haulouts make its immediate situation less dire than those facing other species such as the polar bear.
"If we work with native Alaskan groups, the state of Alaska and other partners to help the walrus now," Haskett said, "we may be able to lessen the long-term impacts of climate change on these animals and keep them from becoming endangered."
The non-profit Center for Biological Diversity says it is not persuaded existing protections are sufficient to save the walrus from extinction.
"The Obama administration has acknowledged that the walrus is facing extinction due to climate change, yet is withholding the very protections that can help save it," Shaye Wolf, CBD climate science director, said. "It's like having a doctor declare that you are in critical condition, but then just leaving you unattended in the hospital's waiting room."