Wild Profile: Meet the Atlantic walrus

Published: January 12, 2021

An Atlantic walrus sitting on an ice floe By Joe McDonald/Shutterstock

The big, blubbery Atlantic walrus is no fan of the heat, which is why it can thrive in the winter, searching out open water and comfy ice floes. Only East Coast cottagers—or visitors—are likely to spot these tusked behemoths. They largely stick to the cold waters near Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

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Male Atlantic walruses can weigh as much as one-and-a-half tonnes (though their average weight is more like 2,000 lbs). Even walrus calves are hefty at birth—about 120 lbs. They get their trademark tusks during the first summer or fall after they’re born. Tusks are actually really long canine teeth; they can reach up to 40 inches on a mature male. (Females have tusks too, but they’re not as long.) Walruses use these dagger-like ivory appendages for foraging, for defence, and to drag themselves up onto the ice, pick-axe style.

Atlantic walruses look for food on the ocean floor, one reason why they prefer to stick to shallower water. They’ll dive down, then dig up molluscs, or sometimes other invertebrates.

Walruses don’t look like they can move very fast, and they can’t on land. But in the water, they’re swift, graceful swimmers, thanks especially to two large hind flippers. They may be well adapted to water, but, like lots of marine creatures, they’re sensitive to human disturbance, pollution, and oil spills. Low-flying seaplanes and loud boats can spook a herd. And research shows that underwater boat noise can even interfere with walrus herd communication. Sigh. Hang in there, walruses.

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