Mr. Walrus – The Keystone of the Arctic


The Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus meaning “tooth-walking seahorse”) , is  the only living species in the family OdobenidaeThe evolutionary history of this animal is not very firm as we don’t have too many fossils. They are very much related to seals and some speculation exists relating them to bears and even saber-tooths ( based on teeth and skull. However, most of this involves quite a bit of speculation.

The walrus is a very large animal, measuring up to 12 ft.(4 meters) in length and weighing in at 1.5 tons. They have wonderful adaptations for living in frigid zones. The blubber really helps keep them warm and safe from large predators. Apparently, biting into all that blubber is not easy (see video below), even for a polar bear. They have tusks(enlarged canine teeth) that are quite distinctive of the species. They are used as means of defense, for mating, and also as ice-picks to get around the ice floes that are their home.

They also have large whiskers, called mustacial vibrissae, that are sensitive like human fingers and help them find their prey( mainly mollusks). They have a mouth that is made for sucking the innards out of their shelled quarry. They can also lower their heartbeat and metabolism during really cold climates to burn less energy.

Walruses are relatively long-lived(20 – 30 yrs) in the wild , social animals, and they are considered to be a “keystone species” in the Arctic marine regions. The males mate at 12 to 15 years of age while the females mature by 5 to 7 years.  The mating season is usually in February and pups are born 15 -16 months later. The young stay with their mother’s for up to five years but are weaned within a year of birth.

Their biggest predators on land are the polar bear that try to go after the young and the infirm.

The large adults are usually too large even for the mighty killer whale, which is the other predator that threatens this species in the sea.

The walrus has played a prominent role in the cultures of many indigenous Arctic peoples, who have hunted the walrus for its meat, fat, skin, tusks, and bone. During the 19th century and the early 20th century, walruses were widely hunted and killed for their blubber, walrus ivory, and meat. The population of walruses dropped rapidly all around the Arctic region.

However, with a complete ban on hunting except for native people, the numbers have rebounded to about 250,000 animals and they are doing well in their habitat. They are still considered vulnerable because global warming is quite rapidly melting sea ice. As they live on it for most of their lives, this poses quite a serious threat to Walrus populations. We hope that these adaptable beasts can make do with what they have for humans are surely not going to be too accommodating.

About mammal 73 Articles
I blog about mammals and all the interesting and fun-filled facts about them will be welcome additions to this blog.

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