Arctic walrus takes a nap on an iceberg, wakes up in Ireland

stock image of a walrus poking its snout from the water
This photo shows an Arctic walrus, like the one recently spotted in Ireland. (Image credit: Getty/ThomasFluegge)

A walrus spotted on an Irish beach yesterday (March 14) may have floated there from the Arctic Circle after falling asleep on an iceberg.

A 5-year-old girl walking with her father spotted the blubbery newcomer.

The young girl, named Muireann, pointed out the walrus to her dad, Alan Houlihan, as they walked on Valentia Island in County Kerry. "I thought it was a seal at first, and then we saw the tusks," Houlihan said, according to IrishCentral. "He kind of jumped up on the rocks. He was massive. He was about the size of a bull or a cow, pretty similar in size; he's big, big." 

Most walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) live near the Arctic Circle, where they hunt for shellfish in shallow water and clamber up onto the icebergs and beaches to rest, Live Science previously reported. The humongous creatures rarely crop up along the Irish shoreline. The first recorded walrus sighting there occurred in 1897, but no other walruses were seen until the 1980s, the Irish public service broadcaster RTÉ reported. Since then, fewer than two dozen additional walruses have been spotted in Ireland.

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The washed-up walrus seen on Valentia Island is thought to be quite young, based on the length of the animal's tusks, RTÉ reported. Full-grown walruses can grow tusks as long as 3.3 feet (1 meter), while the recently sighted walrus's tusks were roughly 12 inches (30 centimeters) long. The walrus's body measured more than 6 feet (2 m) from snout to tail.

How does a young walrus end up in County Kerry? "I'd say what happened is, he fell asleep on an iceberg and drifted off, and then he was gone too far, out into the mid-Atlantic or somewhere like that, down off Greenland possibly," Kevin Flannery, a marine biologist with the Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium, told The Independent.  

"He could also be island-hopping and went to Iceland and on to Shetland, but that's unlikely," Flannery said. I'd say he came in out of the Atlantic." After traveling thousands of miles, the walrus is likely exhausted and hungry, he added.

"Hopefully, he'll get a few scallops around Valentia," Flannery said. "If he regains his strength, hopefully he'll make his way back up" to the Arctic.

Houlihan said the sleepy walrus still gave him and his daughter "a bit of a show" when they spotted it, according to The Irish Examiner. "It's brilliant. He was sitting on the rock now, kind of posing; at one stage there, he threw up a fin, and it looked like he was giving us all the birdie," he said. 

Originally published on Live Science.

Nicoletta Lanese
News Editor, Health

Nicoletta Lanese is a news editor on Live Science's health desk. She first joined the publication in 2019 as a staff writer. She holds degrees in neuroscience and dance from the University of Florida and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her work has appeared in The Scientist Magazine, Science News, The San Jose Mercury News and Mongabay, among other outlets.