The long tusks of the walrus are elongated canine teeth. These tusks are present in both males and females. Walrus use their tusks when fighting to establish territories and in in courtship display. When in the water, walruses also use their tusks to maintain breathing holes in the ice, to hang onto ice while breathing, and when getting out of the water. Walrus tusks can grow to lengths of over 3 feet and weigh as much as 12 pounds each. Males have longer, heavier tusks than females.
Walrus have a thick mat of bristles around the base of their tusks. These bristles are known as vibrisae and they serve sensory functions. Walruses also have very sparse hair covering their body and appear to be almost bald over most of their body. They have a tlich layer of blubber bneath the skin that serves as superb insulation.
The name walrus is derived from a Germanic language (Dnglish, Dutch or Old Norse). The name may be from the English phrase "whale horse) or the Dutch "walvis" which means whale. Another possibility is the from the Dutch "walros" (which translates to "horse whale") or "wal reus" (which translates to "shore giant").
In the wild, walruses live, on average, to be between 20 and 30 years of age. The mating season lasts from January through April and gestation is between 15 and 16 months. Males reach sexual maturity at the age of 7 years but delay mating until the age of up to 15 years. Females reach sexual maturity between 4 and 6 years of age.
During the non breeding season, walrus form large gatherings of several tens of thousands of individuals. The gather on rocky beaches.
During the summer, Pacific walrus spend time north of the Bering Strait in the Chukchi Sea, near Wrangel Island and along the coastlines of northern Alaska. Atlantic walrus spend their summer in the Canadian Arctic, in Greenland and the Svalbard Archipelago. The Laptev walrus remain in the region of the Laptev Sea throughout the year. There are a total of about 200,000 walrus alive today.
Walrus were heavily hunted during the 18th and 19th centuries by both whalers and sealers. The Atlantic walrus population was hunted almost to extinction. Traditional hunters also hunt walrus but they use all parts of the walrus, the preserve the meat including the flippers and the bones and tusks were used for tools and crafts.
- Atlantic walrus (O. rosmarus rosmarus)
- Pacific walrus (O. rosmarus divergens)
- O. rosmarus laptevi
The walrus is one of three groups belonging to the pinnepedia, the other two being the true seals and the eared seals.