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Walruses (from Dutch: wal meaning "shore", and r(e)us meaning "giant") are large semi-aquatic mammals that live in the cold Arctic seas of the Northern Hemisphere. Two subspecies exist: the Atlantic, Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus, and the Pacific, Odobenus rosmarus divergens. The Pacific walrus is slightly larger, the male weighing up to 1,800 kg (4,000 lb), but usually males only top out at 1,600 kg (3,500 lb). The walrus should not be confused with the elephant seal.
Walruses are members of the order Carnivora and suborder (or alternatively superfamily) Pinnipedia. They are the only members in the family Odobenidae. The compound Odobenus comes from odous (Greek for "tooth") and baino (Greek for "walk"), based on observations of walruses using their tusks to pull themselves out of the water. Rosmarus originates in the Swedish word for walrus. Divergens in Latin means "turning apart", referring to the tusks.
Walruses mate in the water and give birth on land or ice floes. They feed in the water, diving to depths of 90 m (300 ft), sometimes staying under for as long as a half hour. Clams and mollusks form a large part of their diet. Male walruses compete for territory, often fighting each other; the winners in these fights breed with large numbers of females. Older male walruses frequently bear large scars from these bloody but rarely fatal battles. Walruses have been known to kill polar bears.
Pacific walruses spend the summer north of the Bering Strait in the Chukchi Sea along the north shore of eastern Siberia, around Wrangel Island, in the Beaufort Sea along the north shore of Alaska, and in the waters between those locations.
Smaller numbers of males summer in the Gulf of Anadyr on the south shore of the Chukchi Peninsula of Siberia and in Bristol Bay off the south shore of southern Alaska west of the Alaska Peninsula.
In the spring and fall they congregate in the Bering Strait, adjacent to the west shores of Alaska, and in the Gulf of Anadyr. They winter to the south in the Bering Sea along the eastern shore of Siberia south to the northern part of the Kamchatka Peninsula, and along the southern shore of Alaska.
Walruses have a breeding season in mid-winter, a time spent in the southern Bering sea. The males show off in the water for the females who view them from pack ice. Males compete with each other aggressively for this display-space. Mating probably takes place in the water. After fertilization the fertilized egg remains dormant for several months, then a gestation period of 11 months follows. When a calf is born, it is over 1 m (3 ft) long and able to swim. Birth takes place on the pack ice; the calf nurses for about 2 years and spends 3 to 5 years with its mother. Females mature at about 6 years, males at 9 or 10. A walrus lives about 50 years.
Walruses spend about half their time in the water and half their time on beaches or ice floes where they gather in large herds. They may spend several days at a time either on land or in the sea. In the sea they sometimes catch fish but generally graze along the sea bottom for clams which they suck from the shell. Abrasion patterns of the tusks show that the tusks are dragged through the sediment but are not used to dig up prey. Walruses can also spit jets of water to look for clams. Large male walruses have been observed to attack seals if they cannot find any other food source.
About 15,000 Atlantic walruses exist: they live in the Canadian Arctic, in the waters of Greenland, of Svalbard and of the western portion of the Russian Arctic. The Atlantic walrus once enjoyed a range that extended south to Cape Cod and occurred in large numbers in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. About 200,000 Pacific walruses exist.
Walruses have only three natural enemies: humans, orca, and the polar bear. Polar bears hunt walruses by rushing at them, trying to get the herd to flee, then picking off calves or other stragglers. The walruses use their long tusks (elongated canines) for fighting and for display.
Alaska Natives slaughter about 3,000 walruses annually. Humans use ivory from the tusks for carving. The natives call the penis bone of male an oosik and use it in making knives. Federal laws in both the USA and in Canada protect walruses and set quotas on the yearly harvest. Only under rare circumstances may non-native hunters gain permission to kill a walrus legally. The law prohibits the export of raw tusks from Alaska, but walrus-ivory products may come on the market if first sculpted into scrimshaw by a native craftsman. Commercial auction sites such as eBay make a large selection of "pre-ban" walrus ivory available.
The walrus in popular culture
In Western culture, fiction often depicts the species—with its plump body, bushy mustache, and peacefully sleepy expression—as a happy, lovable and friendly animal, and its appearance may be interpreted as somewhat comical.
In literature and music
- Farley Mowat's book Sea of Slaughter has a large section dedicated to the effects of hunting on eastern Canada's walrus population.
- Lewis Carroll's famous poem "The Walrus and the Carpenter" inspired the 1967 song "I Am the Walrus" by The Beatles. In the song John Lennon is "the Walrus". However, in order to deliberately confuse his fans, Lennon sings in the later song "Glass Onion" that "the Walrus was Paul". In the solo song "God," Lennon sings "I was the Walrus, but now, I'm John."
- The Walrus is a Canadian news magazine.
- In Salman Rushdie's children's book Haroun and the Sea of Stories, The Walrus is the name of the imposing Grand Controller of Gup.
- Walrus is also the name of Captain Flint's ship in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.
- Sam Allardyce, the manager of English football team Bolton Wanderers is often nicknamed Walrus, due to his uncanny physical resemblance to the creature.
In other media
The Walrus is a very commonly seen animal in animation. They are usually portrayed as rugged but experienced and lovable characters, or as aristocratic characters due to the animal's snout looking somewhat like a mustache.
- Rotor the Walrus, a.k.a "Boomer", is a prominent character in SatAM Sonic the Hedgehog animated series as well as the ongoing Sonic the Hedgehog comic book continuity. Rotor is the protagonist group's brave but shy mechanical super-genius and intellectual. He is very friendly and generally fits the archetypal personality of the walrus.
- The Captain of the Thames is an anthromorphic walrus from the video game Xenogears. He is a demi-human, captain, and all around man of the sea.
- Chumley is the sidekick of the title character in the cartoon series Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales. He is good natured if a bit dim.
- Wally Walrus is a character from the Woody Woodpecker cartoons. He was the nemesis as well as rival of the title character.
- The King of the World is an occasionally seen character from the various Dragon Ball anime series. Although not stated, he is an odd mix of a walrus and a dog.
- McSweeny, a large and muscular walrus, is a very minor character from the Sly Cooper series of video games.
- The Walrus is an offbeat, silly, and obscure character from various Marvel Comics.
- Bletch is the name of the walrus of the film by director Peter Jackson, Meet The Feebles. Unlike the passive image of walruses, Bletch is very mean and cheats on his hippopotamus lover with a cat.
- Wendell is the starving walrus in the game Animal Crossing and Animal Crossing: Wild World. Giving him a red turnip in Animal Crossing: Wild World will result in him giving the player either a turban or a country guitar.
- Wossa the Walrus is a walrus from Banjo-Kazooie who lives in Feezeey Peak inside a cave.
- PGA tour Champion Craig Stadler is nicknamed the Walrus.
- Tuskernini is an anthropomorphic walrus villain on the Darkwing Duck cartoon.
- Savoonga, Alaska calls itself the "Walrus Capital of the World".
- Walruses are among the only mammals in the world that do not process liquid waste via a bladder organ. Once digested, liquid waste is absorbed through the lining of the small intestine and secreted through the skin.
- A male walrus's penis is completely internal, however it has one of the largest bacula (penis bones) of the animal kingdom.
- Seal Specialist Group (1996). Odobenus rosmarus. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 12 May 2006.