Thanks to its whiskers, long tusks and massive size, the walrus is one of the most recognizable Arctic animals. However, because of its rather remote choice of habitat, this circumpolar marine mammal is rarely observed in the wild by nature enthusiasts, making it a bucket list viewing choice for travelers who do journey to the High Arctic. Here are some facts to help you get to know this remarkable animal.
The walrus is huge with an adult typically about 7.25 to 11.5 feet in length. It can weigh up to 1.5 tons (3,000 lbs or 1,360 kilograms). That’s the weight of a small car and the length of a mid-sized car. Walruses live up to 40 years in the wild. They can withstand freezing temperatures as low as -35°C (-31°F) protected by layers of blubber stored beneath their skin to insulate them from the cold. They are also capable of slowing their heartbeat to endure the temperature, allowing them to live comfortably in the Arctic.
Both males and females have large tusks which they use for cutting through thick ice and for hauling themselves out of the water onto ice flows. They also use their tusks for defense. In males, the larger the tusks, the more dominance is indicated with these modified canine teeth becoming as long as 3 feet (0.9 meters). Female tusks grow up to 2.5 feet in length.
Walruses are social animals that congregate in “herds” usually segregated by gender, with females and males each having their own herd. The largest Canadian walrus herd occurs in Foxe Basin where it numbers approximately 5,000 strong, and is often seen lounging in groups on the pack ice. With numerous polynyas (areas of open water surrounded by pack ice), Foxe Basin is a great habitat for the walrus whose only natural predators are Orcas and polar bears. With easy access from the historic Inuit community of Igloolik, travelers may witness the mighty walrus on Arctic Kingdom’s Kings of the Arctic safari.
Scientists recognize two subspecies of walrus divided geographically. Atlantic walruses inhabit coastal areas of Canada, Greenland, and two island groups off the polar coast of Siberia, and Pacific walruses are found in the northern seas and islands between Alaska and Russia.
The worldwide walrus population is estimated at 250,000 with the Atlantic subspecies only making up about 20,000 of the total global population. Walruses are not considered to be threatened but the population is declining due to climate change. The measurable decline in sea ice is an increasing threat to walrus habitat, specifically required for birthing and breeding. You may find some good information here on how climate change is affecting the walrus population.
They live in shallow water but dive up to 90 meters in search of food and stay under water for up to 30 minutes! They are also quite graceful in the water swimming at an average speed of 7 km/h (4.35 mph) and up to 35 km/h (21.74 mph) in a sprint. While their vision isn’t great in murky waters, they rely on their extremely sensitive vibrissae (whiskers) to help them find their favorite foods including clams, mollusks, sea cucumbers and more.
The gestation period for a walrus calf is 15 to 16 months. Newborn calves weigh between 100 and 165 lbs and nurse for about a year. They generally stay with their mothers for the first 3 years and sometimes up to 5 years.
Calves don’t have tusks at birth but tusks start to appear during the first summer or fall. Tusks generally grow for about 15 years, and for males they may continue to grow throughout their lives. Males can reach maturity as early as seven years old, but usually don’t start mating until around 15 years old.
Based in Canada’s northeast territory of Nunavut, tour operator Arctic Kingdom, arctickingdom.com, has been a global leader in land-based polar travel, crafting unique Arctic adventures for almost 20 years. The company offers polar bear viewing year round, and exclusive opportunities to see wildlife including narwhal, whales and walrus in season. Unmatched access, built through years of deep-rooted relationships with Inuit communities, allows Arctic Kingdom to deliver once-in-a-lifetime Arctic experiences in safety and comfort. Most safari clients are between 50 and 75 years of age.
All images in this article were taken on the Kings of the Arctic safari out of Igloolik, Nunavut. It is home to polar bears, bowhead whales and walruses inhabiting the rich Arctic wildlife area of Foxe Basin. Two 7-day/6-night itineraries are offered in July 2017.
To learn even more about the mighty walrus, visit the Canadian Geographic website, the National Geographic website, and the Defenders of Wildlife website.
An award-winning content marketer, Liz Carino has researched and written stories about travel, parenting, lifestyle, nutrition, real estate and tech. She brings together her passions for writing and travel as Marketing Communications Specialist for Arctic Kingdom. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org