Walruses live in or near the waters of the Artctic Circle. There are two subspecies, the Pacific and Atlantic Walruses. There seems to be little difference between the weight of the Atlantic and Pacific male walrus but the Pacific female walrus is typically smaller than the Atlantic female. Walruses rest on beaches or on ice, and prefer to be near shallow water so they have better access to their food source, which is largely shellfish. The whiskers you see by their mouth are very useful and ultra sensitive. When searching for their food, they sense tiny movements on the bottom of the sea with their sensitive whiskers allowing them to hunt for their next meal. While on land or ice, walruses congregate in herds, this often numbers in the hundreds. During mating season, herds can reach up to thousands of members, and live in herds of females or males. Males and females typically don’t live together during this time.
Baby walruses are called calves. Mother walruses are pregnant for 16 months, and usually have one calf, although there will sometimes be twins, too. The mother moves away from the rest of the herd when giving birth, perhaps to protect the calf from being crushed by another walrus. Scientists are still unsure exactly what the reason is. At birth, calves may already weigh over 100 pounds. They can swim immediately, but will follow the mother for the first three years of their life. After these three years, they will join the rest of herd. Walrus calves have dark brown skin, but as they age, their skin pales and becomes pinker. Walruses have the ability to slow down their heartbeat while swimming, which helps them to withstand the freezing temperatures. They can stay underwater for up to 10 minutes. While it might look like walruses aren’t graceful or fast on land, they actually have the ability to run in a manner similar to a dog, and can be as fast as a human.
You may think that a calf weighing more than 100 pounds at birth is huge, but adult walruses weigh anywhere from 1,000 pounds to 3,000. They are one of the largest flipper-footed marine mammals, called pinnipeds. Males are about twice as large as the females. They can grow up to 10 feet in length, and their tusks alone can be 3 feet long. Walruses use their tusks to break through ice or, like an ice pick, help them climb up from the water. They also use their tusks to defend themselves from predators and, with the males, assert dominance during the mating season. Males’ tusks are larger than females’. Walruses only have two natural predators, the orca while in the water and the polar bear while on land. Lucky for the walrus, though, both of these prefer not to risk attacking adult walruses and make up a very small portion of an orca or polar bear’s diet.
Walruses populations are increasing and are protected from the majority of human hunting which is very good news. There are about a quarter million walruses worldwide. Pacific walruses make up the vast majority of this number. In the past, walrus numbers were low and threatened by hunters. However it is now illegal for most to hunt them, which has given them room to increase their populations. An adult walrus in the wild can live up to 40 years.
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