Odobenidae – Walrus

Tusked marine mammals heralding climate emergency!

A marine mammal uniquely adapted to life in the Arctic’s frigid waters. As the sole surviving member of its family, the walrus is easily recognized by its enormous size, with some males weighing in at 1,500 kg (1.5 tonnes) or more, and its distinctive long tusks. These tusks, which can grow up to a meter in length, serve multiple purposes, including as a display to assert dominance and to help haul their massive bodies onto ice or land.

The body of a walrus is a marvel of evolutionary adaptation. It is equipped with thick fat that can be up to 15 cm (6 inches) thick, providing insulation against the harsh cold of the Arctic. This layer of fat also serves as an energy reserve when food is scarce. Aside from the fat, their skin is uniquely adapted, with a high capacity to change blood flow to help regulate body temperature.

Walruses are gregarious creatures. They are often found in large groups called herds on the sea ice, which serve as crucial platforms for resting, molting, giving birth, and nursing their young. Their social structure is complex, with a hierarchy established through physical displays and vocalizations. The herds are generally segregated by sex, with males and females only coming together during the breeding season.

The impact of climate change on the walrus is profound. With the Arctic experiencing some of the most rapid warming on the planet, sea ice is retreating alarmingly. The loss of this essential habitat affects the walrus’s ability to find suitable resting areas and access rich feeding grounds. Consequently, walruses are often forced to congregate on land, which can lead to overcrowding.

Overcrowding is a significant issue as walruses rely on the availability of space on ice floes to maintain social order and personal safety. When forced to haul out on land in large numbers, any disturbance can trigger panic, resulting in stampedes toward the safety of the water. In these chaotic events, younger and weaker individuals are at risk of being trampled to death.