Wildlife
© naturepl.com / Eric Baccega / WWF

Walrus

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.

Walrus facts

  • scientific name
    Odobenus rosmarus
  • weight
    400 to 1800 kg
  • length
    2.2 to 3.6 m
  • population
    Atlantic likely 25,000+, Pacific ~200,000 & Laptev ~5,000
  • status
    Vulnerable (IUCN)
© IUCN

About walruses

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.

Amazing teeth

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

Artists carve walrus ivory, and this practice provides cultural benefits and much-needed income.

Artists carve walrus ivory, and this practice provides cultural benefits and much-needed income.

©Wellcome Images / CC-BY
Walruses have long played an important role in the culture, economies and diets of Arctic peoples.

Walruses have long played an important role in the culture, economies and diets of Arctic peoples.

©Staffan Widstrand / WWF

Threats to walruses

Climate change
Walruses depend on sea ice as a platform for feeding and resting, and a warming Arctic is disrupting their normal patterns. In the past decade, earlier melting of sea ice in summer sea ice has forced abnormally large numbers of Pacific walruses ashore on the coasts of Russia and Alaska. These “haulouts” of up to 35,000 individuals can be deadly, particularly for walrus calves that are crushed in stampedes provoked by disturbances.
Industrial impacts
As sea ice melts, walrus populations will be exposed to more industrial activity, like shipping and oil and gas exploration. In addition to direct impacts like icebreaking ships and disturbance to walruses on shore, there’s an increased risk of oil spills. A WWF study found that oil spills on ice are virtually impossible to clean up.
Unsustainable hunting
Limited numbers of walrus are hunted in the United States, Canada, Greenland, and Russia. WWF supports up-to-date research into population trends to ensure the hunt remains sustainable.

How we work

Conserving walrus

WWF has produced the first-ever report on the circumpolar conservation status of walrus.

Recommending action for walruses

The first circumpolar report on walrus conservation recommends research into the effects of industrial activities on the Arctic animals.

Reducing shipping impacts in Greenland

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.

Reducing the oil spill risk

WWF has mapped the enormous potential reach of an oil spill in the Barents Sea.

Solving a walrus mystery

A WWF expedition in 2013 collected DNA samples from the walruses of the Laptev Sea to determine their relationship to other subspecies.

Tools for mariners

WWF has created maps and posters for Canadian ships in the Arctic to help mariners identify and avoid marine mammals.

Publications

The Circle 04.19
The Circle 04.19
3 December 2019
The Circle 03.18
The Circle 03.18
17 July 2018
Circumpolar Conservation of Walruses
Circumpolar Conservation of Walruses
4 May 2018
Greenland Mariners' Guide
Greenland Mariners' Guide
27 September 2017
The Circle 02.17
The Circle 02.17
1 August 2017
Marine mammals of Hudson Strait
Marine mammals of Hudson Strait
25 May 2017
See all 10 publications

Meet the team

WWF-Sweden

Senior Advisor, Arctic and marine

WWF-US

Senior Program Officer, Arctic Wildlife

WWF-Canada

Senior specialist, Arctic species & ecosystems

WWF Arctic Coordinating Team

Senior Specialist, Arctic species