As to the reason for his visit, most experts conclude it was caused by climate change, triggered by rising fossil fuel emissions, which is heating the planet and reducing the sea ice cover upon which walruses rest, hunt and digest their food. As Molly Gray, of British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDLMR) put it: “It’s not very normal to see walruses down here so we imagine it is because of climate change.”
This interpretation is not shared by everyone, however. Indeed, it was flatly rejected by climate change sceptic Matt Ridley in the Times. Everything is fine and dandy in the Arctic, he insisted. Sea ice levels are not badly affected and, far from being a threatened species, walrus numbers are rising, along with those of polar bears. Why don’t you report the good news about the environment? he demanded.
Needless to say, Ridley’s assertion is hotly disputed. Yes, numbers of walruses have been recovering slowly since 1952 – when Norway made it illegal to hunt them. That does not mean they are thriving in a warming climate, says Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change. “In fact, in 2016, the walrus was classified as vulnerable on the IUCN red list of threatened species.”
Tough one really. Matt Ridley or Bob Ward?
Or even, facts. Walrus numbers are up – therefore walrii are less threatened than before.