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Fun Facts About Walruses

walruses, fun animal facts
Walruses on ice afloat in the Bering Sea. Millions of years ago, there was no ice to be found in the region.
Credit: Liz Labunski/USFWS.

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class:  Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Odobenidae

Genus:Odobenus

Species: Odobenus rosmarus

Subspecies: O. rosmarus rosmarus(Atlantic walrus), O. rosmarus divergens (Pacific walrus), O. rosmarus laptevi (Laptev walrus)

 

Basic walrus facts:

Walruses are one of the largest flippered marine mammals. Male walruses weigh up to 3,700 pounds (1,700 kilograms), while females tip the scales at about 2,700 pounds (1,200 kg).

In the pinniped family, walruses are second in size only to elephant seals. Their flippers are flexible like hands, and each flipper has five digits.

They have a broad head, small eyes, and can be recognized by their tusks. (Both male and females walruses have tusks.)

Walrus use their tusks to fight, to defend against predators and to haul their massive bodies out of the ocean and on to ice. Those characteristic tusks, which are actually long teeth, can weigh up to 12 pounds (5 kg) each. [Giants on Ice: Gallery of Walruses]

The walrus' whiskers are not hairs, but actually extremely sensitive, tactile organs, much like a cat's whiskers. The walrus uses these whiskers to seek out food along the seafloor.

Walruses eat a wide array of seafood from the shallow ice shelves, from clams to worms, snails, soft shell crabs, amphipods, shrimp, sea cucumbers, tunicates and slow-moving fish. Some individuals prey on seals, small whales and seabirds and may occasionally scavenge marine mammal carcasses.

Walruses only have two natural predators: the orca (or killer whale) and the polar bear. Both are more likely to hunt walrus calves than adults.

Walruses haul their flabby bodies out on ice floes and beaches on islands or remote stretches of mainland coastlines. A walrus can remain under water for up to 30 minutes before coming up for air. When they do come up, they are very gregarious animals and are frequently found in tight groups that number from the tens to the thousands.

Females do not give birth until they are 7 to 8 years old and usually only produce one calf every three years. They gestate their babies for 15 months, and calves need help from their mothers for more than two years.

In the wild, walruses live to be about 30 years old.

 

Where walrus live:

Walruses need shallow ice shelves and frigid Arctic and sub-Arctic waters to live.

The biggest walrus population lives in the Pacific, spending summers in northern Alaska, and winters in Siberia.

A much smaller population of Atlantic walruses lives in the Canadian Arctic.

 

Conservation Status: Not enough data.

Hunting for walruses was banned in Canada in the 1930s and by the United States in the 1940s. Although the global population of walruses is still quite large, at around 250,000, there is evidence of declining populations.

Climate change is expected to have negative consequences for global walrus populations, particularly those living in the Pacific. Less sea ice, and thinner sea ice, mean that walruses have a smaller area on which to haul out and may have to swim further between rests.

Scientists are working on projects, like fitting walruses with transmitters to follow them and understand their reactions to declining sea ice, hoping to gain some insight into the behavior and populations of the regal creatures.

Another potential problem for the future of the walrus is that the time between generations is 21 years.

 

Odd facts about walruses:

In Latin, the walrus's scientific name means "tooth-walking sea-horse." When the walrus uses its prominent tusks to pull its bulk from the ocean onto pack ice, it looks like the animal is walking on its tusks, hence the name.

Walruses' tusks are actually really long canine teeth. They can reach up to 3 feet (1 meter) in length.

That's a lot of skin:a walrus's thick hide usually accounts for about 20 percent of its body weight. Under that skin, their layer of blubber is about half a foot (15 centimeters) thick.

A 28,000-year-old fossil walrus was dredged up from the bottom of San Francisco Bay, indicating that Pacific walruses ranged that far south during the last ice age.

The walrus sucks the meat out of clams — its favorite food — by sealing its powerful lips to the organism and withdrawing its tongue, piston-like, rapidly into its mouth, creating a vacuum. The interior of a walrus mouth is uniquely shaped, which gives it ideal suction.

Walruses are capable of slowing their heartbeats in order to withstand the frigid temperatures of the Arctic waters.

 

More info:

IUCN Red List: Walrus

National Geographic: Walrus

Defenders of Wildlife: Walrus

SeaWorld: Walrus

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