Polar bears and walrus could be wiped out in Greenland because of excess hunts and a thawing of Arctic habitats spurred by global warming, the WWF conservation group said on Thursday.
Narwhals, a type of whale with a spear-like tusk up to 10 feet (3 metres) long, and rare beluga whales were also under threat because Greenland’s catch quotas were far higher than recommended by scientists, the group said.
“Polar bears, walrus, narwhal and beluga in Greenland are under such pressure that they could disappear,” the WWF said in a report. “Polar bears and walrus are hunted in Greenland in an almost unregulated way.”
It said Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory with its own parliament, should do more to protect its “big four” species of marine mammals, traditionally hunted for food, white fur or ivory.
Greenland’s rising hunts of polar bears — 278 were shot in 2003 against 159 in 2000 — might be linked to a warming climate, the group said. Melting sea ice may be forcing more bears towards hunters who tend to stay along the coast.
Last year, an international report by 250 experts indicated temperatures in the Arctic were rising twice as fast as the rest of the world because of a build-up of heat-trapping gases from fossil fuels burnt in cars, factories and power plants.
The report said ice could disappear from the Arctic Ocean during summer months by the end of the century.
The Arctic thaws faster than the rest of the globe because dark ground and water, once exposed, soak up far more heat than snow and ice.
A minority of scientists dismissed the findings and said they were based on unreliable forecasts.
The WWF said the long-term impact of hunts of polar bears and walrus in Greenland was unknown because there were no reliable data on how many of the mammals lived in the region. In recent years, more than 350 walrus have been shot each year.
Still, the group said Greenland had stepped up protection for birds, narwhal and beluga since another critical WWF report in 2003-04. It also praised Greenland for signing up for a U.N. convention banning trade in endangered species.