Wildlife & Marine Life North Spitsbergen Sailing Voyage
With Aqua-Firma Marine Scientist, Charlotte Caffrey
Name: Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus)
Length: 3 - 4 m in males; 2 - 2.9 in females
Weight: up to 1,500 kg - males: up to 900 kg - females
Status: Data Deficient
Watch these fascinating, lumbering giants haul themselves from the icy waters onto the freezing land and marvel at their sheer size; their strength; their smell! Truly one of the most charismatic animals seen anywhere in the world, walruses exude a contented charm – happiest when feeding or having a good scratch.
Diet: Walruses are benthic (bottom) feeders, where their diets mainly consist of bivalve molluscs such as mussels. They use their long, sensory whiskers to forage in the sediment and having found food, they suck the meat from the shells. Up to 70 kg of shellfish meat has been found within the stomachs of walruses.
Habitat: Walruses prefer habitats where shallow coastal waters are available, where the water depth is less than 100 m deep, allowing the walruses to dive for their food. They are usually found near either large areas of drift ice or near sheltered pebble beaches.
Biology: Walruses have poor eyesight but a good sense of smell and good hearing. They live in large social groups which are typically divided by sex. The large ivory tusks can reach 1 m in length and may weigh as much as 5 kg each. These enlarged canine teeth are used to haul the animal onto ice or land, for social status and for maintaining access holes in the ice. Breeding occurs between Dec-Feb, where males display and fight over territories and females. After a 15 month gestation period, a single calf is born (around 60 kg in weight and 1.2 m in length), which is dark grey with black flippers. Calves spend about two years with their mother before becoming independent. Both male and female walruses have tusks.
Historical: Walruses were heavily exploited across Svalbard for their ivory tusks and thick skin (which was used for machine belts). Before large-scale hunting commenced in the 1600s, there were many thousands of animals – but by the time the species was protected in 1952, there were thought to be less than 100 walruses left across Svalbard.
Notes: With over 2000 walruses around Svalbard now, the species appears to be recovering its former status. Polar bears are unlikely to target adult walruses but will occasionally take young animals. Although the walrus is predominantly feeds on shellfish, some individuals have been observed to prefer a diet of seals, either killing them directly or scavenging on carcasses.
Trivia: In a ten minute period, a walrus can locate and consume up to 4000 clams.