Blue Zoo: Walrus


Featuring one amazing marine animal per week.

Three subspecies of walrus live in the Arctic and sub-Arctic: the Atlantic walrus (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus), the Pacific walrus (O. r. divergens), and the Laptev walrus (O. r. laptevi), which may be a distinct population of Pacific walrus, rather than its own subspecies.

Copyright: 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.  

The walrus is one of the largest pinnipeds (a category that also includes seals and sea lions), and the largest subspecies is the Pacific walrus. Males can reach 3.6 m (over 11 ft), and weigh 1500kg (3,300lbs) or more. They mainly live on sea ice, and migrate along with it. They usually forage for invertebrates on the seafloor, but they occasionally prey on seals. 

Walruses are most easily recognized by their large front teeth, or tusks. All adults develop tusks, but females’ tusks are much smaller than those of males.  The tusks help walruses forage for food and haul out onto land or ice.

  

Walruses are social animals and can be found in large groups called haul outs. The largest males dominate in the hierarchy. Walruses have very thick skin as protection against the sharp rocks and ice they haul out on – and as protection from each other. Males use their tusks for fighting, and develop large knobby bumps around their necks as defense against rival males’ sharp tusks.

Copyright: 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.  

Walrus skin changes color depending on the environment. When a walrus enters cold water, blood flow to its skin is limited to reduce heat loss, so they look pale gray. Out of the water, when it is warm, a walrus will turn reddish-brown because the blood flow increases. As it gets warmer, it can even turn pink! 

Walruses have been hunted for thousands of years as a source of food, but commercial hunt for their ivory tusks starting in the 1700s. The population was depleted but began to recover in the 1950s after protections were implemented. Subsistence hunting still continues but is regulated.

The current population size is unknown but scientists are concerned about the effects climate change could have on the population; some changes in migration patterns have already been reported.

Copyright: 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. 

Click here for walrus activity sheets, wallpaper, coloring pages and more! 

 

 

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