Photo credit: Steven Kazlowski/


America’s Arctic Ocean, the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, provides habitat for countless species of wildlife and is central to life in coastal communities. This is one of the most unique marine ecosystems in the world, home to the entire population of U.S. polar bears as well as walrus, seals, bowhead whales, narwhals and more. The Arctic Ocean also plays a key role in regulating the world’s climate, and whether or not the U.S. drills in Arctic waters will have a major impact on the global effort to address climate change.




Notable wildlife includes endangered bowhead whales, gray whales, walrus, ringed seals, spotted seals, polar bears, spectacled eiders, Steller’s eiders and more.



The Arctic Ocean is home to the entire population of U.S. polar bears, including the Southern Beaufort Sea population listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.


Arctic sea ice plays a vital role in regulating the world's climate, however it is rapidly disappearing as the Arctic is warming at about twice the rate of the rest of the planet.



Walrus can weigh up to two tons and prefer shallower Arctic waters with plentiful sea ice available for haul out. Due to climate change, walrus are increasingly hauling out on land.



The Inupiat have lived along the coast and depended upon Arctic waters to provide resources such as fish, whales, walrus, seals and seabirds for generations.


The Arctic is warming at three times the rate of the rest of the world, sea ice continues to decline, and Arctic waters are quickly warming and becoming more acidic. One powerful way we can slow the effects of climate change is to limit the amount of fossil fuels we are burning, and an effective way to do that is by not opening up new areas to intensive drilling.

The Obama administration took bold steps to protect the Arctic and act on climate, withdrawing much of America’s Arctic Ocean (all of the Chukchi Sea and much of the Beaufort Sea) and portions of the Atlantic Ocean from leasing. These protections were under threat during the Trump administration, but thankfully remained in place. In 2023, President Biden declared 2.8 million acres of the Beaufort Sea indefinitely off-limits to new oil and gas leasing. This expansion of the Obama administration decision in 2016 means that most of the Beaufort Sea and all the Chukchi Sea planning areas are off limits to oil and gas development.


The Inupiat people have lived in the region and depended upon intact Arctic ecosystems to provide resources such as fish, whales, walrus, seals and seabirds for generations. These communities continue to practice subsistence traditions, harvesting a significant amount of food from the ocean and land. These practices are essential to Inupiat identity, and for many residents of the Arctic there is a direct connection between the continued health of the Arctic Ocean and the health of their food supply and culture.

The intense noise of seismic exploration and drilling has already pushed marine mammals farther out to sea. According to the National Academy of Sciences and reports from Inupiat subsistence hunters, development activities have already changed the migratory patterns of bowhead whales by as much as 30 miles.

Photo credit: Mladen Mates


Average life span: Up to 40 years

Length: 7 to 12 feet (males); 5 to 10 feet (females)

Weight: Up to 4,000 lbs (males); up to 2,000 lbs (females)

My, what big teeth you have: The walrus’s iconic tusks are really multi-use tools. Walrus use them to haul themselves out of ocean waters and to break breathing holes into the ice from below. Reaching up to three feet in length, these tusks are actually canine teeth that continue to grow throughout a walrus’s life.

Arctic wish list: Although walrus forage primarily on the sea floor for food, they are not deep divers and therefore prefer shallower shelf regions with plentiful sea ice available for haul out. As sea ice continues to decline, however, walrus have only one option: make the long, exhausting and potentially perilous swim to land.

Photo Credit: Florian Schulz/