Home » Walrus

Walruses is species we see more and more in Svalbard.

Every individual represent a great encounter with a personality. The populations are growing after being almost exterminated back in the 1960`s.

There are two populations of walrus. The Atlantic walrus with approximately 25,000 and the Pacific walrus with 200,000. They feed on invertebrates, mussels, clams, crabs and soft corals. They have been recorded being capable of diving to a shocking depth of up to 500 meters but generally don’t go much deeper than 30 meters. The bigger the animal the deeper the dive due to the ability to hold more oxygen in their body. These deep dives beyond 100 meters are not routine behavior as they generally spend time on ice flows where it´s shallower so that they can feed easily while the ice also provides a place for them to rest. 

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Walruses at the colony at the island muffin during sunrise
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Walrus under water. Underwater housing on a polecam.

The average life span of a walrus is 40 years. Their tusks grow continually, the older the walrus the longer the tusks, growing up to 3 feet in length and are considered to be their canine teeth.  They use their tusks to haul themselves out of the water and to break breathing holes in the ice when needed. They are often seen using their tusks violently to maintain or claim territory. It is difficult to watch this aggressive behavior with the tusks and the injuries they cause as a result.

Walrus
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With the disappearing sea ice, the walrus is more commonly “hauling out” in unusually massive numbers onto land. This overcrowding behavior is a dangerous risk to the walrus as they are easily frightened or surprised by anything. The scent of a predator or perhaps a plane over head or an unfamiliar noise, will cause them to panic and rush to the water by the tens of thousands, weighing up to 1500 kilograms, trampling smaller walruses to death. Such loss is tragic to the population especially since it is mostly the females that haul out on land with their calves.

As the sea ice continues to disappear the threat of more loss is evident to the species for several reasons.  When more ice is lost, human disturbance and development will definitely increase and affect the habitat they thrive in. Oil exploration and spills are always a massive threat to any species in the arctic. In 2011 the walrus was considered to be endangered but in 2017 it was decided they do not require protection as threatened or endangered, however their behavior of “hauling out” is proof they are trying to adapt to less ice and survive the warming effects of the sea. They are now listed as “vulnerable.”  With very little ice to rest on they are forced to swim long distances to land for rest and to feed in the shallows around the shores rather from ice flows. 

Currently only Native Americans are allowed to hunt walruses, their survival in the past was threatened by overhunting. Hunting walrus was banned in 1952 and total protection is still enforced in Svalbard today. They were almost extinct in Svalbard in 1952 with possibly only 100 animals left. After 60 years of protection the population has increased but is still considered small with approximately 5000 walruses.

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Walruses in Ekmansfjorden

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