10 things you didn’t know about one of the Arctic’s favourite animals
Easily recognised by their tusks and whiskers, walruses are a favourite animal to spot in the Arctic. Although they may look lazy as they loll on rocky shores, these characters are pretty formidable if you get on the wrong side of them! If you’re observing from a distance, however, there are some pretty cool facts about walruses that are well worth knowing:
• The most distinctive characteristic of walruses are their tusks. Both males and females grow tusks – the longest of which can measure up to 3 feet! An impressive set of tusks can hoist you up the walrus hierarchy because in the walrus world, ahem - size does matter! The more well-endowed walruses command more respect.
• These tusks assist the walrus, not only in fighting, but also when hoisting themselves out of the water. When needed, the walruses will use their tusks like a grappling hook to get ashore.
• Afterall, when you weigh around 1000kg, it’s not all that easy to get out of the water and onto the rocks!
• Walruses have a layer of blubber that’s around 6 inches thick. It not only keeps them warm, it’s also handy for protection when you find yourself the target of someone else’s tusks!
• Sometimes needing to dive up to 300 feet, Walruses’ heart rates will drop during the dive to conserve oxygen.
• They can spend up to three days at sea. Then, once coming ashore, they may sleep up to 19 hours straight. Well earned, I say!
• When attracting a mate, bulls can get pretty vocal! They’ll woo potential partners with a range of whistles, bell-like moans, guttural gaffaws and more. The sounds are not actually produced by their vocal cords but from air sacs, which extend from the pharynx.
• Females will be pregnant for 15 months, giving birth to a 45-75kg baby (yikes!). She’ll nurse the baby for up to two years, depending if she gets pregnant again the following year.
• The life span of a walrus is usually to a maximum of 40 years. Males usually don’t mate until they are around 15 years, females at around 10 years.
• Although they have few natural predators, man has hunted them to extremely low levels for their oil, ivory and skin. Between 1860-1880, walrus oil was highly sought for lamps, soap and machine lubricant meaning that around 10,000 walruses were killed each year in the Arctic. These days there are restrictions on walrus hunting and selling ivory is illegal. This has allowed walrus populations to recover and increase.
You generally have a pretty good chance of seeing walruses in various parts of the Arctic. Svalbard, Greenland, Arctic Canada, some parts of Alaska, Russian Far East and The Laptev Sea all play host to colonies of walruses – although some areas are very hard to visit due to being so far north and some can only reached by sea, which is where our cruise team come in. We’ve got a range of Arctic cruises whether you prefer Norway and Greenland or prefer to go up into the Canadian Arctic and over to Russia. Give us a call to discuss the options!
Image courtesy of Polar Photos