Where's Wally? Iceberg-hopping walrus is now 2,600 miles from home

This is the first time that a walrus has been spotted this far south in the UK.
This is the first time that a walrus has been spotted this far south in the UK. (Image credit: Nathaniel Barry/Padstow Sealife Safaris)

The Arctic walrus that likely fell asleep on a drifting iceberg and woke up in Ireland, and then turned up weeks later in Tenby, Wales, has now appeared even farther south, in Cornwall, England.

The walrus (Odobenus rosmarus), known as Wally, is the first of its species to be spotted off the coast of Cornwall, roughly 2,650 miles (4,260 kilometers) from the animal's home in the Arctic Circle.

Wally appeared off Cornwall in Padstow on April 20, swimming alongside the boat of a group on a sea safari. The Cornwall Wildlife Trust described the walrus's arrival in the area as "absolutely a first."

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"This afternoon our passengers and crew were absolutely astounded to spot what they first thought was a very large seal, only for it to pop up and reveal a pair of tusks," Nathaniel Barry, a wildlife photographer and team member at Padstow Sealife Safaris, the firm running the tour, wrote on Facebook on May 19.

"My first feeling was: 'What is going on?'" Barry told Live Science in an email. "I'd heard of the Tenby walrus but not in Cornwall. Our captain, Kev, spotted it first. After I saw that it was a walrus, I wanted to appreciate the moment and also take a photo so the rest of my team didn't think I was lying."

Barry added that Wally didn't seem bothered by the safari boat, which had stopped to let the marine animal pass without bothering it.

The appearance came just three days after Wally was last seen in Tenby, Wales, where it had a run-in with a lifeboat crew after blocking their lifeboat slipway, which Wally had chosen as a comfortable spot to nap. 

Wally appeared nonplussed as he swam past the boat of captivated onlookers.

Wally appeared nonplussed as he swam past the boat of captivated onlookers. (Image credit: Nathaniel Barry/Padstow Sealife Safari)

Lifeboat crews tried multiple tactics to shift Wally from their slipway, from blowing an air horn next to the animal to spraying it with a hose. A spokesperson for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution said lifeboat crews were able to "gently nudge" Wally into the water.

"During a routine exercise on Monday April 26, the air horn did not prove successful, so the crew were advised by experts to trial a gentle freshwater hosepipe, which successfully moved Wally on," the spokesperson said.

Later, Wally was spotted again in Cornwall, having made the 70-mile (113 km) journey across the Bristol Channel from Tenby.

Wally's adventures around the British Isles began on March 14, when a 5-year-old girl walking with her father first spotted the blubbery beast plonked down on the rocks of Valentia Island in County Kerry, Ireland, Live Science previously reported. At the time, a marine biologist speculated that the animal had fallen asleep on a drifting iceberg. 

Walruses are only rarely spotted so far south of the Arctic Circle, where they typically hunt for shellfish in shallow water and rest on nearby beaches and icebergs. The first-ever recorded walrus sighting in Ireland occurred in 1897. In the more than 120 years since then, fewer than two dozen additional walruses have been spotted in Ireland.

Wally's rare southern appearance was not one "we would ever expect to see," Jenny Simpson, head guide at Padstow Sealife Safaris, told Live Science in an email. "On our one-hour Seal Safari tours (the trip he was spotted on), we search for grey seals, birdlife and a bonus would be spotting dolphins or porpoises, so a walrus was a jaw-dropping surprise!"

Wally isn’t the only exotic marine mammal to have seen off the coast of Cornwall. On May 5 the UK’s only family of killer whales (Orcinus orca) were spotted off Cornwall’s west coast in the first confirmed sighting in over a decade. The sighting could be the furthest south killer whale’s have ever been recorded travelling in the UK, according to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

Originally published on Live Science.

Ben Turner
Staff Writer

Ben Turner is a U.K. based staff writer at Live Science. He covers physics and astronomy, among other topics like tech and climate change. He graduated from University College London with a degree in particle physics before training as a journalist. When he's not writing, Ben enjoys reading literature, playing the guitar and embarrassing himself with chess.