Everything You Need To Know About The Pacific Walrus

Explore the Arctic and discover walruses around the icy shores. Credit: Shutterstock

With tusks like an elephant and the body of an oversized seal, the Pacific walrus is quite the eye-catcher. Affectionately called the ‘Giant of the Arctic’, the Pacific walrus is sharing the Arctic waters with the other main walrus subspecies, namely the Atlantic walrus. As the names might give away, they do live in different regions of the Arctic. The Pacific Walrus calls the wide range between Russia and the US (Alaska) home, from the Bering to the Chukchi Seas, including the Laptev Sea.

Experts estimate today’s wild Pacific walrus population at about 200,000 individuals. Every single one of these majestic ocean wonders are of major importance to the Arctic ecosystem.

Read ahead and find out everything you need to know about the Pacific walrus!

Big is beautiful

To be honest, Pacific walruses might not be the most graceful Arctic dwellers there are. But in terms of size, they are definitely in the run for one of the heaviest creatures of the Northern polar region! As with most members of the animal kingdom, male Pacific walruses are larger than their female conspecific. The bulls tip the scale at up to 1800 kg (2 tons)! However, the bigger the better: Walruses depend on their body fat to survive the freezing Arctic temperatures. Moreover, adult bulls are up to 3.6 meters (12 feet) long.

Mastering life in the arctic

Like all Arctic animals, pacific walruses are naturally well adapted to the harsh conditions of the Arctic region. First of all, they are able to brave the cold thanks to their so-called ‘blubber’, layers of insulating fat beneath their skin. Additionally, walruses are able to control their heartbeat and can slow it down to deal with temperatures as low as -35°C (-31°F).

They might not look like it, but Pacific walruses are actually decent divers: They can hold their breath for up to half an hour (!) and dive up to 90 meters deep. While the giants are usually not to be found in deep waters, they would technically be able to find their way around.

Thanks to these features, Pacific walruses usually live to around 40 years old.

Eating and being eaten

What’s for dinner? For a Pacific walrus, the answer would be anything that can be found on the ocean floor! They spend most of their time in shallow waters and would only jump into the literal deep end if food is scarce. The sea ice around the continental shelf luckily offers a rich food web, providing the huge carnivores with their favourite snacks. These consist of clams, worms, soft shell crabs, shrimp, snails, and sea cucumbers. With a spot rather high up the food chain, orcas and polar bears are the only natural predators a Pacific walrus needs to worry about.

Elephants of the Arctic

Their tusks would turn any elephant green with envy! Both male and female Pacific walruses possess ivory canine teeth that come in handy in various ways: From defending themselves against predators and keeping breathing holes in the ice open to fighting against conspecifics. Their tusks’ main purpose however is the source of the walrus’s Latin name ‘Odobenus Rosmarus’, meaning ‘tooth walking sea horse’. A Pacific walrus typically uses its mighty tusks to lift itself out of the water and up onto sea ice.

Easily spooked giants

Walruses are generally known to be highly sensitive to noise and other disturbances. Particularly female walruses are usually extremely protective of their calves if they fear any sort of threat. The problem? The highly social mammals tend to rest together in mass gatherings. However, stampedes can occur when a group member gets scared, leading to everyone trying to reach the water as quickly as possible. This in turn often escalates end results in mortality.

On thin ice

Besides natural predators and stampedes, the Pacific walrus’s main threat is global warming. The Arctic giants rely heavily on sea ice to rest, socialize, give birth, and nurse their calves. Climate change has already caused a major loss of sea ice, and the situation is coming to a head with little prospects of improvement. Sea ice is melting away as temperatures rise, which puts newborns at risk as their mothers need to swim further in search of food and leave their calves behind longer.

As if that wasn’t enough already, Pacific walruses are about to lose their natural habitat to oil companies exploiting the Arctic’s fossil fuels for the big bucks.

Needless to say – action is required to save not only the Pacific walrus but our entire fragile ecosystem that is depending on them.

Walruses in the arctic water near Svalbard
Walruses in the arctic water near Svalbard. Photo: Shutterstock

Fascinated by these Giants of the Arctic?

Join us on one of our cruises to the Arctic region to discover the Pacific walrus’s natural habitat.

In consideration of the fragile Arctic environment, Chimu Adventures pays special attention to minimizing the impacts of our tourism activities.

Our team is happy to help you plan your trip of a lifetime to the Arctic!

Author: Bente Bruhnken