11 Rugged Facts About Walruses
By Mark Mancini
This has been a big year for walruses. Last week, the internet erupted when some 35,000 of them were seen mobbing an Alaskan beach, and audiences everywhere found themselves perplexed in September by Kevin Smith’s bizarre horror/comedy Tusk, which focuses on a podcaster who gets turned into a faux walrus, Human Centipede-style. Clearly, now’s the perfect time to brush up on your walrus trivia. Here are 11 need-to-know tidbits that will help you get started.
1. Walruses Employ a Tusk-Based Hierarchy.
Both sexes grow these impressive canines, which can stretch over 3 feet in length and weigh several pounds. Tusk size helps determine a given walrus’ social status, with well-endowed individuals generally commanding the most respect. But power can be fleeting: Broken tusks usually mean getting knocked down a few pegs.
2. Males Can Produce some Amazing Sounds.
Come breeding season, amorous bachelors woo potential mates with a chorus of high-pitched whistles and deep, bell-like moans thanks in part to some inflatable sacs called pharyngeal pouches.
3. A Walrus’ Pregnancy Lasts Roughly 15 Months.
Makes the human gestation period seem almost meager by comparison.
4. One Prehistoric Species Had Two Sets of Tusks.
Gomphotaria pugnax patrolled the shores of present-day California roughly 6 million years ago. It had four tusks residing in its ancient maw: two on the upper jaw and two on the lower.
5. The Walrus’ Genus Name—Odobenus—Means “Tooth-Walking Sea Horse.”
In a way, walruses really do “walk” with their teeth. When the massive mammals haul themselves ashore, those powerful tusks are frequently used as grappling hooks.
6. Walruses Sport a 6-inch Layer of Blubber.
Nestled just beneath the skin, this fatty lining warms and streamlines its possessor. As an added bonus, the blubber makes their hide much tougher for predators to penetrate.
7. They’ve Been Known to Fatally Wound Polar Bears.
Don’t let all that flab fool you: When danger strikes, walruses can become formidable fighters. Polar bears are among the few predators capable of bringing these creatures down, yet even they tend to give fully-grown adults a wide berth. Agitated walruses have been documented repeatedly stabbing the arctic ursids, causing serious injury or even death..
8. Walrus Mouths Create High-Suction Vacuums.
After using its distinctive whiskers to root out some poor clam on the ocean floor, a hungry walrus will grasp the delicacy between its muscular lips and start pumping its tongue. A powerful vacuum then ruptures the shell, allowing our walrus to suck out the contents.
9. Walrus Sleeping Patterns are Pretty Extreme.
Recent studies have found that, on land, these hulks can snooze for an uninterrupted 19 hours. They can sometimes stay awake for roughly three and a half straight days while at sea.
10. Walruses are Top-Notch Divers.
While feeding, a walrus may plunge to depths of well over 300 feet. Fortunately, these animals’ circulatory systems are well-equipped for this demanding behavior—their heartbeats slow drastically during long dives to save oxygen.
11. They Occasionally Eat Seals.
Hopefully, the previous 10 bullet points have convinced you that walruses are anything but cuddly pushovers. If not, this last fun fact will. After tiring of clams and shellfish, the beasts can repurpose their tusks for disemboweling red meat entrees. Bearded and ringed seals are occasionally taken by ravenous walruses. By the way, as if this wasn’t terrifying enough, some reports claim they’ll also attack unwary narwhals.