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Odobenus Rosmarus

Everyone knows what a walrus looks like! Its long ivory tusks are used for many things, including protection from attack by polar bears, killer whales and local hunters in kayaks.

Walrus are very slow on land because they are so big and clumsy, but in the water they are very fast and strong.  They can dive down 300 feet to retrieve their favorite food, clams, from the sea bottom. A walrus can eat 4,000 clams in one feeding!

Air sacs in the walrus' neck allow it to sleep with its head held up in the water. Nursing females use this standing position as they nurse. The pups, born approximately every two years, nurse upside down.

Walrus will dive into the water at the faintest scent of a human.  Walrus numbers were very reduced by commercial hunters until 1972 when the Marine Mammal Act started protecting them.  Now only native people in the Arctic may hunt them and the populations have grown in size. Native peoples in the Arctic hunt the walrus for food and put every part of its body to good use. They use the tusks for the delicate art of carving called "scrimshaw."


Photo © Stephen Loring

19th Century Naturalist
Edward Nelson Recounts:

"To many of the Eskimo, especially on the Arctic shores, this animal is of almost vital importance and upon Saint Lawrence Island, just south of Bering Straits, over eight hundred Eskimo died in one winter, owing to their missing the fall Walrus hunt.

To these northern people this animal furnishes material for many uses.  Its flesh is food for men and dogs; its oil is also used for food and for light in oil lamps and heating the houses.  Its skin when tanned and oiled makes a durable cover for their large skin boats; its intestines make waterproof clothing, window-covers, and floats.  Its tusks make lance or spear points or are carved into a great variety of useful and ornamental objects, and its bones are used to make heads for spears and other purposes."

Photo © Stephen Loring

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