Fascinating Facts About Walruses
With their iconic long tusks, blubbery bodies, and cute whiskered faces, walruses are not only impressive in looks but also in their behaviors and significance to the ecology of the planet.
From their massive size and social gatherings on sea ice to their specialized feeding habits and crucial role in the ecosystem, get ready to learn more about these fascinating Arctic giants and their chilly Arctic world.
There Are Two Subspecies of Walrus
There are two subspecies of walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) — the Atlantic Walrus, found in the North Atlantic Ocean , and the Pacific Walrus, located in the Bering and Chukchi Seas. Atlantic walruses are smaller than Pacific walruses.
Walruses live to be about 40 years old.
Walruses Live on the Edge of the Arctic Ocean
Walruses are scattered around Canada, Greenland, and Russia in the Atlantic and near Alaska and Russia's Siberian coast in the Pacific.
They live on coastlines, ice floes, and shallow waters along the Arctic Ocean's edges.
They Are Particular About Their Habitat
Walruses typically live in shallow waters, which is where they rest and forage.
However, they are good swimmers and can venture into deeper waters when necessary, especially during migration or when hunting prey.
They Spend Most of Their Time Congregating on Sea Ice
Walruses use sea ice as a main location for resting, socializing or giving birth.
Sea ice provides them with a convenient spot to leave the water and access food sources fairly quickly.
Walruses Sometimes "Haul Out" on Land
In some cases, when sea ice is not available (for example, in the warmer months) or when they need to move between foraging areas, walruses may come ashore and rest on land.
When they often haul out on land, it is usually only temporary — they return to the water and their icy homes as soon is possible.
Walrus Tusks Continue to Grow
Walrus tusks will grow several feet during their lifetimes. They use them to dig food on the seafloor, break through ice, and in social interactions with other walruses. The rate of growth can vary among individuals.
Those in captivity have a different outcome, as it is easy for them to damage their tusks on a zoo's concrete enclosures.A zoo will sometimes cap the tusks to prevent injury or remove them, as cracked or broken tusks can lead to infection.
Males Get Very Big
Male walruses are known as "bulls." They can weigh up to 4,400 pounds and are over 10 feet in length. They are also known for their massive tusks, and large, fleshy necks.
They are typically larger than females, or "cows," which weigh in at about 2,200 pounds. The Pacific walrus is slightly bigger than its Atlantic cousins.
They Give Birth Every Two to Four Years
Cows — female walruses — give birth every two to four years to a single calf after a gestation period of about 15 months.
Walrus moms have strong maternal instincts and are known to pick up calves with their flippers and hold them to their chest before escaping predators by diving into the water.
They Live on a Variety of Seafood
Walruses love clams and can eat up to 6,000 a day. In addition, they consume thousands of snails, mussels, and worms.
They are skilled hunters who use their sensitive whiskers to detect prey. When they find it, they use their tusks to break through ice or access buried food.
They Can Whistle and Make Other Unusual Vocalizations
Walruses can make a variety of unusual vocalizations, including whistles, clicks, and bell-like sounds. These are used for communication within social groups, particularly during interactions such as mating or mother-calf communication.
They are easily trained to make a number of noises when in captivity.
Walruses Can Sleep in Water
It's true ... walruses have the ability to enter a state of rest or sleep while floating, which they can do because they are buoyant. They are voluntary breathers, meaning they can control when they come up to the surface to get some air.
While they do sleep in water, they do so close to the surface to ensure they can easily come up quickly if needed.
They Have Very Few Natural Predators
Their massive size, tough skin, and the fact that they often congregate in groups (this is known as a "huddle") make walruses less vulnerable to predators than other ocean animals.
Polar bears and killer whales are among the few natural predators of walruses.
Walruses Are Sociable but Can Be Aggressive
While walruses are often seen in huddles for various purposes, including protection from predators, warmth, and communication, they can get more than a little aggressive with each other.
Males fight during mating competitions or when they feel threatened and use their tusks and bulk to establish dominance.
Only One Group Can Hunt Walruses
The walrus was almost rendered extinct by the 1800s due to hunting, as the animal had a range of valued parts for humans.
By the mid-20th century, walrus hunting was made illegal for most people. The only exception is for indigenous groups, who still hunt the walrus for food.
Walruses Are a Vulnerable Species
The walrus population is about 250,000 today. While they are no longer hunted, they still face conservation challenges, particularly due to the loss of their sea ice habitat caused by climate change.
This loss has begun to disrupt their way of life and raises concerns about their future survival.