Walrus are large pinnipeds, the same group of mammals as seals and sea lions. Pinniped means 'fin footed' because all four feet have become flippers to help them in the water.  

Habitat and distribution (where they are found)

Walrus live in Arctic waters,  in the area around the North Pole. Some are in the Bering, Chukchi and Laptev Seas, and others in the coastal areas of north east Canada and Greenland.  In winter they spend time on ice floes, and in summer on rocky beaches. 

A walrus bull is the second biggest of the pinnipeds. ©Getty Images

A walrus bull is the second biggest of the pinnipeds. ©Getty Images

Bodies

The male walrus is the second largest of the pinnipeds after the elephant seal. It is 3.5 m long and weighs around 1700 kg.  Walrus do not have outside ear flaps, but a fold of skin marks where the ears are. They have thick, wrinkled hairy skin.They have bristly muzzles with long whiskers. The bristles help them locate food on the sea bed.  Both males and females have two long canine teeth that can grow to about 1m long in some males. These  tusks are used when fighting, but also as hooks to help the animal move along on the ice, and to break breathing holes in the ice when they are swimming under it. 

 Walrus bodies have a thick layer of fat called blubber to keep them warm in the cold Arctic.  Their  nostrils close underwater and the pupils of their eyes expand so they can see well in the darkness deep underwater. Underwater, their heart rate slows down so they don't get too cold in the freezing temperatures. They can dive to a depth of 90m and stay underwater for about 30 minutes at a time.

Walrus move on land like earred seals do, using four flippers. 

Walrus gather in herds. ©Getty Images

Walrus gather in herds. ©Getty Images

Behaviours

Walrus spend about two thirds of their time in water.  They can move quite fast on land on all fours. They look for food in deeper water.  They are social animals and gather in large groups. Males and females form separate herds in the non-breeding season. Males can be very aggressive in the breeding season as they establish dominance in shows of strength. About 15 months after mating with a male, a female gives birth on the ice, generally to one young. The calves are a grey brown colour, weighing about 100kgs. They grow very fast because walrus milk is very rich in fats.

Diet

Walrus feed on clams, mussels and other sea creatures found on the ocean floor. walrus breeds on ice islands, and dominant (strongest) males gather large harems. Walruses use their tusks to fight each other and to attract females. Male walrus use their large throat pouches to make sounds to attract females.

©Getty Images

©Getty Images

Conservation status and threats

Walrus are classified as 'data deficient' which means scientists have not been able to gather enough information to determine whether or not they are endangered.  Walrus used to be hunted for their ivory tusks, blubber (for oil) and skins. Today they are hardly hunted at all and their numbers have increased.  Today their main threat is from climate change. Their food and habitat is affected by warmer waters. 

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