On June 18, when top executives from BP Oil appeared before Congress to answer questions about their oil spill emergency plan, it was noted that BP had included references to protecting walruses in the Gulf of Mexico. As a wise lawmaker noted however, “walruses have not called the Gulf of Mexico home for three million years”. Oops.
So now as a lesson to BP, here are 13 other little known facts about Odobenus rosmarus, the walrus.
1. The walruses scientific name, ‘Odobenus rosmarus’, is Latin for ‘tooth-walking sea-horse’. When the walrus uses its prominent tusks to pull its bulk from the ocean onto pack ice, the process looks like the walrus is walking on its tusks, hence the name.
2. A walrus can remain under water for up to 30 minutes before coming up for air.
3. The walrus’ whiskers are not hairs, but actually extremely sensitive, tactile organs, much like a cat’s whiskers. The walrus uses these whiskers to help find food.
4. The tusks of a full grown walrus can weigh over 3 pounds each.
5. Walruses live in the Arctic seas and on land.
6. The adult male walrus can weigh from 900kg to 1400kg (2000 to 3000lbs) and can grow to 12ft in length.
7. Walruses are extremely noisy and social, cramming onto beaches and ice floes by the thousands. They have very defined hierarchies – males, females and females with calves – and come to each other’s rescue when they are attacked.
8. From afar, the walrus looks bald but its body is actually covered with a very thin layer of fur.
9. Every two or three years the cow (female) gives birth to a single calf in May or June. Newborns have a thin layer of blubber and are covered with a coat of short gray hairs which comes in handy since they are born on ice floes. The calves can swim at birth and usually stays with its mother for two to three years until it takes off on its own.
10. Walruses feed on clams, mussels, krill, crabs, worms and snails. It will also eat octopus and fish and may also attack seals.
11. Walruses can live up to 20–30 years old in the wild.
12. Walruses don’t have very good eyesight, but their hearing and sense of smell is excellent. Touch is also an important sense in walrus communities as they seek physical contact with each other.
13. Walruses’ only natural enemies are the killer whale and polar bear. Man is also an enemy as they have been close to extinction several times due to overhunting. Walrus tusks, oil, skin and meat were highly valued in the 18th and 19th centuries. Only indigenous peoples of the arctic are currently allowed to hunt walrus and there is a limit on numbers that can be killed.
One can only hope that BP will never be allowed to drill in the Arctic Seas and need to put their ‘walrus protection plans’ to the test.