Cornforth Images

Walrus

The Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) is an exclusively Arctic species – the sole surviving member of the once diverse and widespread Odobenidae family. They are easily recognized by their long tusks and great bulk (up to 4,400lbs (2,000kg)). While they share with otariids the ability to turn their rear flippers forward, their swimming is more reminiscent of that of true seals, relying more on sinuous whole body movements. They also lack external ears. Unlike eared seals and true seals, which feed primarily by hunting fish and squid in the water column, walrus generally prefer benthic invertebrates, in particular, clams. It is the development of the unique squirt and suck method of feeding on molluscs that differentiated the original walrus ancestor from the other pinniped lineages.

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. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the walrus was the object of heavy commercial exploitation for blubber and ivory and its numbers declined rapidly, but have since rebounded. The effects of global climate change on the walrus populations is another element of concern. In particular, there have been well-documented reductions on the extent and thickness of the pack ice which the walrus relies on as a substrate for giving birth and aggregating in the reproductive period. It is hypothesized that thinner pack ice over the Bering Sea has reduced the amount of suitable resting habitat near optimal feeding grounds. This causes greater separation of lactating females from their calves leading to nutritional stress for the young or lower reproductive rates for the females.

Photographing Pacific walrus usually involves visiting one of their colonies in Alaska. Some of the best locations to view them include the Round Island Walrus Sanctuary and the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, as well as the ice flows near Barrow and other Arctic Alaskan villages.

Click on the following links to view images of the California Sea Lion, Northern Fur Seal, Steller Sea Lion, Guadalupe Fur Seal, Harbor Seal, Southern Elephant Seal, and Sea Otter, or return to the Pinnipeds main gallery.

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