The walrus is a large marine mammal of the Arctic with flippers, a short muzzle, a broad head, small eyes, whiskers and tusks. The two subspecies are the Pacific walrus and the Atlantic walrus. Their color is cinnamon brown. Their large front flippers each has five digits. Males and females both have large tusks used for defense, getting out of water and cutting through ice. The tusks can be over three feet long for males, and for females, about two and a half feet. A bell-like sounds can be produced by males using a special air sac.
Walruses live throughout the Pacific and northern Atlantic Oceans on rocky coastlines and ice floes. They spend a lot of time in the freezing water. Despite suiting freezing northern conditions, walruses have ventured further south to Central Canada and the United Kingdom, even near the Spanish coast.
Habits and lifestyle
Walruses are extremely sociable animals, living in large herds of up to thousands in number, mainly females with their young, and some dominant males. Male walruses fight with their tusks to compete for females and establish dominance. They make a variety of sounds including loud bellows produced via two pouches of air that are in their necks. These animals are diurnal. When not in the water, they feed and rest on sea ice.
Diet and nutrition
Walruses are carnivorous and only hunt other animals to survive. They eat clams, snails, worms, octopuses, squid and some types of slow-moving fish. They will eat young seal carcasses when food is scarce.
Walruses are polygamous. Breeding is between January and March. Gestation lasts for about 15 months, then a single pup is produced, measuring as much as 1.2 meters long, with a weight of up to 75kg. They drink only mother's milk for 6 months then start to eat solid foods. After one year, the pups become more independent, but stay close to their very protective mothers until the age of 2 or 3. Young females often remain longer with mother but males leave to join an all-male bachelor group. Females can reproduce at about 6 or 7 years but males not until they are 10, though 5 years later when they have proved their dominance might be more successful.
Humans are a threat, hunting them for their hides, bones, tusks and oil. Water pollution is also a threat in certain areas. Potential threats are climate change and global warming causing changes and loss of suitable habitat and increase of shipping and development of oil and gas fields.
According to IUCN, the overall population of walrus is likely greater than 225,000 individuals, comprising of about 25,000 Atlantic walruses and 200,000 Pacific walruses. The ICUN classifies the walrus as "Vulnerable", a current population trend for both subspecies is still unknown.
Fun facts for kids
- Walrus tusks are their large teeth, which never stop growing.
- Walruses pull themselves onto land with their tusks.
- Walruses are able to hold their breath for as much as 30 minutes under water.
- Walruses stampede toward open water, when startled, sometimes crushing calves as they do so. This is perhaps why females form separate herds with their calves.
- Walruses have excellent sense of smell and hearing but poor eyesight.
- Walruses dig out clams, shellfish, and other food by squirting jets of water out of their mouths.
- A walrus will break ice by hitting its head against it. Its tusks are then used to increase the size of the hole.