FAA Warns Pilots Against Flying Too Low And Scaring Walruses

The FAA announced today that it will take steps to protect walruses.

A combination of low-flying aircraft and changes in the Arctic sea ice is having a deadly impact on walruses in the Alaskan Peninsula, who are sometimes so spooked by the aircraft that they launch into stampedes that can crush their pups and harm humans. And that must be addressed, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

Majestic creatures

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, female walruses and their pups typically use Arctic sea ice as a resting place when they forage around the Chukchi Sea every summer. However, as the ice disappears, walruses are being forced to temporarily leave the water or “haul out” on land. For example, last year more than 35,000 walruses crowded on to a beach in northwest Alaska.

But sometimes, when adult walruses (which can weigh more than a ton) spot a low-flying aircraft, they begin to stampede, crushing anything in their path—including their own young.

“Alaska native villagers, pilots and other interested stakeholders have expressed concerns about the effects of low-flying aircraft on animals that have hauled out on land,” the FAA acknowledged in a press release.

The agency is not proposing flight or altitude restrictions over the walrus haul-outs, but it is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to educate pilots about the locations of walrus enclaves and to alert them that harassing walruses is a violation of U.S. law.

Findings released by the National Snow and Ice Data Center in March suggest that Arctic sea ice is at a record low for the second-straight year.