NOAA photo, license : Public Domain


Walruses live in the Arctic seas and on land. (map - range for Pacific and Atlantic walrus) They prefer living on the ice, but are also found on the coasts and beaches in the summer.
They are related to seals and sea lions.

The adult male walrus is huge and weighs from 900 kg to 1400 kg. (2000 to 3000 lbs.)
Males are longer and heavier than the females. Males can be 3 metres in length while females are 2.6 metres in length.

Their brownish skin is very thick and wrinkled. They have flat front and hind flippers. The walrus looks bald but its body is covered with short brown hairs. They have long sharp tusks (which are enlarged upper canine teeth), whiskers, small eyes and no external ears.

walrus on the ice, Captain Budd Christman, NOAA Corps. License: Public Domain

The walrus cannot move well on land but it is a very good swimmer. It can dive to the ocean floor.

Under its thick skin, the walrus has a layer of blubber (body fat). This provides the walrus with insulation in the freezing water and also protects it from the cold wind as it lies out on the ice.

The bottoms of the flippers are bumpy so the walrus can grip the ice.

Its tusks help the walrus to climb out of the water and pulls its heavy body onto the ice. The tusks are used to break breathing holes in the ice. The walrus also uses its head to break through the ice.

Every two or three years the cow ( female ) gives birth to a single calf in May or June. Babies are born on ice floes. Newborns have a thin layer of blubber and they are covered with a coat of short grey hairs. Calves can swim at birth.

Newborns are about 1.2 metres in length. The mothers and babies sleep and rest on the floating ice. If there is danger the mother picks up her calf with her flippers, holds it to her chest and dives into the water.

The calf drink its mother's milk and grows very quickly. The young walrus stays with its mother for two to three years.

walrus painting, public domain

The walrus feeds on clams, mussels, krill, crabs, worms and snails. It will also eat octopus and fish. A walrus may also attack a seal. Whiskers help the walrus feel for food on the ocean floor.

On land the walruses lie close together in herds. Large herds may have over a thousand animals. They are very loud noisy animals and make a bellowing sound. When a walrus is attacked , the others come to help it.

a large herd of Pacific walrus

herd on an ice floe, Ansgar Walk, Creative Commons 3.0 License
herd of walrus on an ice floe

Their only enemies are the killer whale ( orca ) and polar bear. These animals have teeth that are strong enough to chew through the tough skin of the walrus. Man is also an enemy.

When a walrus sunbathes its skin turns red The heat causes blood to rush to the skin.

Years ago hunting endangered the walrus. Hunters killed walruses for their tusks, blubber, skins and meat. There are larger populations in the North Pacific Ocean, but they are still threatened in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Walruses are threatened by global warming that melts Arctic sea ice. Instead of spending summer on ice floes, they are forced to stay on the coastline.

The male walrus is called a "bull", the female is a "cow" and the baby is a "calf".

The scientific name for the walrus is "Odobenus rosmarus" which is Latin for "tooth-walking sea-horse."

Native peoples eat walrus meat, use the skin for covering kayaks (boats), for making ropes and for traditional footwear. Carvings and jewellery are made from the ivory tusks.


Web Pages for Students
(2001) updated August 2011

walrus painting by Friedrich Wilhelm Kuhnert, Wikimedia Commons; license : Public Domain

images1 & 2: NOAA photo library ; Photographer: Captain Budd Christman, NOAA Corps; license : Public Domain
a large herd on the coast - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; license : Public Domain
walrus herd on ice floe - photo by Ansgar Walk, Wikimedia Commons ; license - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

"Atlantic walrus" - Hinterland Who's Who, Canadian Wildlife Service
"Pacific walrus" - Marine Mammals (Alaska Region) , US Fish and Wildlife Service