From the 18th century to the early 20th century, American and European sealers and whalers exploited the walrus population in the Atlantic to the brink of extinction, with the numbers of walruses in the Arctic dropping precipitously. Today, with measures introduced to regulate harvesting, populations have rebounded to a degree, but the sustainability of annual harvests in places such as Alaska, Russia and Greenland remains questionable.
At the same time, conservationists are concerned about the effect global warming is having on habitats shared by walruses. The reduction in the extent and thickness of pack ice in recent years is threatening the long-term survival of these animals, which aggregate on the ice during their reproductive period and rely on it when giving birth. Reduction in sea ice has created additional stress related to feeding and has led to stampedes in crowded coastal areas.
These behemoths might be considered unglamorous, and not especially photogenic, but they nevertheless play a vital role in their respective ecosystems and their plight rightly deserves our awareness.