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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Walrus Odobenus rosmarus

Instantly recognizable by its tusks, the walrus is the second-largest pinniped after the elephant seals. Its skin is unlike any other mammal’s, with deep creases and wrinkles, but very little hair.

Its color varies enormously: young walruses can be very dark, while old individuals are sometimes a mottled pink. Beneath the skin is a thick layer of fat, or blubber, which keeps their bodies warm. Walruses feed on shellfish, which they find in the seabed sediment at depths of up to 165 ft (50 m). They locate their food mainly by touch, using stiff whiskers that resemble a mustache.

At one time, it was thought that they used their tusks to dredge up their food, but it is now known that they uncover it by squirting water with their mouths. Once their prey has been uncovered, they separate the soft parts from the shells. It is unclear how they do this, but their feeding technique probably involves suction rather than crushing, because intact shells are often found around their breathing holes.

Females give birth to a single calf after a 15-month gestation, and they breed only every other year. Walruses are highly gregarious, making them easy prey for hunters. They have been hunted by indigenous peoples for at least 15,000 years, both for food and for their hides.

What Oceana Does

Oceana works to protect walrus habitat in the Arctic from the threats of climate change and industrialization.

Walruszoom image
  • Order Carnivora
  • Length 10–11 ft (3.1–3.5 m)
  • Weight 2,750–3,750 lb (1,250–1,700 kg)
  • Habitat Coasts and shallow open water
  • Distribution Arctic Ocean, Bering Sea, Hudson Bay
Walrus habitat mapzoom image