The walrus is easily recognised by its sheer size and magnificent tusks. It is a keystone species in Arctic marine ecosystems. The walrus was once threatened by commercial hunting, but today the biggest danger it faces is climate change.
Our Planet: The story behind the walruses
Walruses are incredible.Read more
- scientific name
400 to 1800 kg
2.2 to 3.6 m
Atlantic likely 25,000+, Pacific ~200,000 & Laptev ~5,000
The walrus is a pinniped, or fin-footed mammal, and is related to seals and sea lions. Their skin is covered by a thin layer of small coarse hairs.
Their most remarkable features are the long tusks which are surrounded by a mat of stiff bristles. The tusks are used for keeping breathing holes in the ice open, for fighting and for helping the walruses haul themselves out of the water on to an ice floe.
Habitat and Ecology
Walrus migrate with the moving ice floes, but never venture far from the coast as they feed in shallow waters. They can swim to a depth of around 100m to feed on molluscs and other invertebrates, but on average do not go much deeper than 20-30m.
There are 2 populations of walrus: the Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) and the Atlantic walrus (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus).
Walruses and people
©Wellcome Images / CC-BY
©Staffan Widstrand / WWF
Threats to walruses
How we work
WWF has produced the first-ever report on the circumpolar conservation status of walrus.
The first circumpolar report on walrus conservation recommends research into the effects of industrial activities on the Arctic animals.
Increasing demand for Greenlandic resources means ship traffic is likely to grow significantly over the next few decades. WWF advises on the risks and engages communities and governments in discussions about best practices for shipping and marine spatial planning.
WWF has mapped the enormous potential reach of an oil spill in the Barents Sea.
A WWF expedition in 2013 collected DNA samples from the walruses of the Laptev Sea to determine their relationship to other subspecies.
WWF has created maps and posters for Canadian ships in the Arctic to help mariners identify and avoid marine mammals.
What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. The Arctic is warming faster than any other region on Earth, and the world is already feeling the effects.
Despite occurring over a vast area and having healthy population sizes in many regions, walruses face an uncertain future. MELANIE LANCASTER and TOM ARNBOM look at conservation actions to safeguard walruses from threats to their survival.