I Am A Walrus!
“The time has come, “the walrus said, “to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships-and sealing wax-of cabbages and kings.” – I could add to these lines once written by Lewis Carroll that I should leave the walrus talk of “many things” and instead I should talk about him, meaning Mr. Walrus and just to make his lady feel appreciated too there is going to be some talk about Mrs. Walrus as well.
Whenever mentioning the name of this animal one brings the cold of the Arctic area with it, the frozen Arctic wilderness, a place where the perpetual winter has made its home, once the world if snow and ice, the perfect place to host the walrus. These Tooth Walkers as they came to be also called have always fascinated people around the world being rather captivating animals both in their looks and in their behavior. They belong to the so called family Odobenidae, a word which comes to be translated in a rather funny way, namely “Tooth Walker”. Yet, when going deeper into the Latin meaning of the word Walrus one would equally well end up being amused by the translation being provided to the Latin words Odobensus rosmarus, meaning “Tooth-walking sea cow”. Now, I really do not think this calling comes to be polite too since admit it ladies, no lady wishes to be called a cow. Yet, I guess walrus ladies make an exception since this is how they actually came to be known.
Yet, in spite this rather mean name walruses come to be nevertheless interesting looking creatures, being often labeled as exquisite looking animals. What is it there that attracts our attention towards them? I guess their tusks and their wrinkled skin have come to be representative in their case. Therefore, it could be stated that most of us happen to be familiar with the looks of a Walrus. Well known by now for their two long tusks hanging down on their face, they happen to look rather funny to me and perhaps to you too. Funny and cute would be two words I’d make use of when referring to the looks of a walrus. They sometimes look to me as if they got prematurely old and as such they got used to the idea and now proudly display their wrinkled skin. Most probably there was no one there to massage their skin with some good skin cream. Yet, though they get to be much teased for their outer appearance they seem to know very well what they have to do with each and every part of their body.
And just to prove you this I could now enumerate a number of defining physical traits that help him survive in the rather freezing habitat he chose to call home. The first thing that comes to my mind is the skin of a walrus, a skin which though wrinkled comes to be very thick too. And this just to make sure that he has “a bad weather coat”, a coat that would offer him protection. The bodies walruses come to display have been built in such a way as to offer them the needed strength to survive the harsh conditions of the places they inhabit. As such I badly feel the need to tell you about its almost evident by now large, vigorous, rounded body and about its many displaying colors. Some of these colors may come to seem rather unusual ones if we were to think about the fact that even though commonly displaying a pink to cinnamon brown this color may change to lighter nuances when being immersed into cold water. All this rather weird looking process for us, humans, has in fact a scientific backup explanation, which tells us that it all happens because the walrus’s blood vessels get smaller.
The interesting part comes when bringing into discussion their ivory tusks. These tooth walkers as they have often been referred to come to amaze us with their long ivory tusks. And since Mother Nature probably did not wish to make females get angry or feel discriminated in any way, both males and females walruses do come well equipped with the just above mentioned rather long tusks. It is true though that if one was to make a comparison between the tusk displayed by a male walrus and those displayed by a female walrus, that person would reach the following conclusion: namely that the “tusks of the males tend to be longer and thicker than those of females.” When coming across the information which tells one that these tusks can reach such incredible lengths as 100cm / 39 inches in males, one cannot but end up mouth opened and exclaiming “That long? Good lord, that would make even Dracula get jealous and wish he had these tusks instead! Dracula would have most probably felt inferior to walruses if he lived to see them in flesh and blood, don’t you think so?”
Yet, as Dracula is not here to haunt walruses and us, I am going to continue my babbling about the above mentioned long ivory tusks walruses come to display. Walruses do not use them just for the sake of looks yet they come to use these tusks for a pretty wide range of purposes. They’ve come well equipped with these tusks in order to either use them as rather strategic defensive weapons against their “enemies”, namely killer whales or polar bears, or just to use them to rummage for food on the ocean floor. Yet they may equally well end up using these tusks as some sort of hooks meant to get their heavy bodies onto ice floes or land as the case may be.
Yet I guess the most prominent role for these already famous tusks comes to be a social one as whether you know it or not by now, walruses come to be really social creatures. It is true males use them frequently to show who is the boss there, in other words for dominance, yet after all they too need to do something to win the heart or the attention as it actually happens, of a good looking female walrus, or a whole harem of them as evidences come to prove it. In fact, it is even said that “walruses think giant tusks are sexy”. Now I know that while reading this a big smile settled on your face, yet I guess the above mentioned situation regarding the sexiness of tusks in the case of walruses comes to be applied in the case of the moustaches our men display and which some women happen to find quite sexy. Not my case of course, yet I thought it worth being mentioned!
How about their whiskers? Because in case you did not know by now walruses do have whiskers too. But in their case, these whiskers come to work as a helping hand in their foraging for shellfish in mucky arctic waters. Surprisingly enough, mom walruses are also said to make use of these whiskers as well as of the rounded part of their tusks to tenderly caress their children. Isn’t this cute? It looks to me that the walrus comes to us to just let us know that he is the walrus, an amazing creature that inhabits planet earth and enriches it with its amazing presence and amazing behavior and looks.
Wish to know something about their social organization, about their likes and dislikes? Most of you probably know by now that they spend most of their lives in the freezing water being excellent swimmers too, yet they spend some time on the frosty land too. As for the social part of their lives, most people who have studied them closely have said that they happen to be the most convivial and friendly of animals. And they do not display this behavior only from to time like some other animals do, but instead choose to adopt this behavior all year long. This can clearly be seen in the fact that they organize whole meetings, “meetings” attended by hundreds of them. They have been often seen moving around in herds and only seldom alone. Therefore we now can guess that males do use their tusks to show their power and dominant role within a well established herd. Though for security and protection reasons male and females are said to gather in different separate herds. Since males do have some issues regarding dominance and display of power, female walruses probably said to themselves that they needed to keep some distance just to keep their babies safe and sound. Actually the rather captivating detail when it comes to tusks and social ranking is to be provided by the fact that the longer these tusks happen to be and the biggest the size the walrus displays, the more aggressive that walrus is going to be. Even so, not all walruses are big as there happen to be some small ones too and these ones will certainly come to display smaller tusks as well. Yet, as every society or group has its leaders and its small society as well, these walruses come to be mentioned as having a lower social ranking. Therefore, when it comes to dominance in the world of walruses, there are a few factors that make the difference. These factors include such things as aggressiveness, body size and last but not least important tusk length.
Do you happen to be interested in finding out what behavior do walruses come to display in their social groups? Apart from the fact that males use to fight other males to show dominance, walruses do have their own ways of communicating with each other and these ways include both visual and auditory displays. The sounds get more complicated and complex to say so when it comes to courtship rituals. It could be stated that males have their own physical and sound performance in front of females, a performance that is meant to impress females and attract their undivided attention. The advantage is on their side since they have different sounds for their land and water performances. Therefore both above and below water they make use of different sounds to impress a female or more than just one. It is said that the sounds emitted underwater include taps, sounds that sound like bells, knocks and even clicks, whereas the sounds released above water, namely on frosty land as some would rightfully say, come to include a rather vast array of whistles and teeth clacking as well. The people who have studied the behavior of males during courtship rituals have stated that in fact they show quite some perseverance not quitting up their loud calls until a female starts paying some attention to them.
Even though walruses have long proven to be quite gregarious and loud animals in fact, apart from sounds, walruses do have other means of communication as well. Therefore, I did manage to come across information telling me that walruses may reach out to each other by means of smell, touch and sight as well. When it comes to touch I think it would be rather awkward if they didn’t touch each other since they use to live in quite numerous numbers. By touching each other they may either express their love for each other or their anger as well since it is almost history by now that they use their tusks to strike each other. As for the love part, it is often stated that walruses do seek the physical contact whenever possible. It is true that mother walruses do express their love for their babies by either letting these ones ride their backs while in water or by offering this one shelter under her chest between her fore flippers while on land.
As for the eyesight part, researchers managed to discover that this one doesn’t help walruses that much, being not so sharp as their other senses but rather poor. Apparently they do not need an acute vision in order to survive since they “feed on sedentary bottom-dwelling animals”. But I shall leave their favorite dishes aside for now since I intend to share some other interesting facts with you for now.
When thinking about the fact that the skin of a walrus happens to be rather thick, one cannot but wonder what these animals actually feel when touching each other or if they feel anything at all. And when it comes to touch, it should also be said that their whiskers are not there just to make them look cuter but also to work out as some extremely sensitive tactile organs. These whiskers come to work in the case of walruses much like the already famous whiskers cats display. In the case of walruses, researchers managed to discover that their whiskers, otherwise scientifically known under the name of vibrissae, offer walruses a helping hand as a way of telling the size and shape of an object.
How about the sense of smell? Is this one well developed in walruses? As far as studies come to tell us, this sense comes to be pretty sharp in walruses, just meant to help them detect approaching predators and thus help them survive the rather harsh conditions of their environment.
As for the taste part it could be said that walruses have shown certain food preferences all along their life. It is actually said that in order to find this food a walrus prefers moving its snout through “bottom sediment”. How do walruses pick their food? This comes to be rather interesting information since it is said that at times they may prefer to take mouthfuls of water and simply splash “powerful jets at the sea floor”. In fact all they do is forage for invertebrates such as clams that prefer to stay hidden otherwise. Thus walruses make use of their whiskers to detect the prey and apparently they also make use of their fore flippers, preferably their right fore flipper to forage for food. What else is there on their menu? When it comes to food preferences researchers come to tell us that walruses prefer eating mollusks but they may as well ingurgitate such other creatures as crustaceans, sea cucumbers, gastropods, worms and even cephalopods. How about some fish like a polar cod, does this sound tasty to you? In case it doesn’t sound that tasty to you, to walruses it certainly sounds yummy.
But in order for them to be able to enjoy their food they first need to have it and thus it is said that their mouth comes to work as some sort of a vacuum, sucking in the needed and desired food.
Have you ever taken your time to watch a walrus in a documentary? I ask you this mainly because I guess not many of us have had the chance to see a walrus in flesh and blood only in captivity perhaps and I guess that walrus or walruses did not display such a happy attitude. Leaving aside the life in captivity part I shall try to picture a walrus on land. Did you know for example that walruses can as well prove to be excellent runners when being on land? Even though due to their physical appearance they may look like they move rather sluggishly and slowly, they are yet able to run as fast as humans. So, they come to be nevertheless excellent swimmers and runners too. Did you know for example that when in water they can dive up to 90 meters and spend up to 30 minutes under water? I happen to find all these facts rather amazing and nevertheless captivating.
Amazingly enough when it comes to the time walruses spend underwater these ones have shown to be able to take a good sleep while swimming. How come such a thing is possible? Well, researchers did manage to discover that the air sacs located in the throat region helps them to do just this: take a good nap and continue to swim across new lands.
As for the giving birth part or in other words the perpetuation of species part, the story comes to be pretty simple: “On an ice floe in the Arctic, a baby walrus is born. He snuggles under his mother’s flipper. In a few days, he will be ready to dive into the icy ocean and ride on his mother’s back.” And if you liked this story then you’d better keep close since I am going to tell you more interesting things as well. I guess I made it clear by now that during the courtship rituals taking place in the world of walruses males compete over females. Who gets to be the winner? Rumor and evidence has it that usually the walrus coming equipped with the largest tucks gets to win the battle over the female walrus being at stake. Where does breeding take place? I have to admit that I never witnessed the breeding process yet it is often said that it all happens underwater. When does birth take place? It is said that the birth takes place fifteen months after the “battle” for supremacy or for a female walrus as the case may be comes to an end. Yet I guess the second part fits in this case. When do males and females walruses reach their sexual maturity? Is there any difference between them when it comes to this aspect? Amazingly or surprisingly enough there comes to be a considerable difference, a difference that consists in several years. Males reach their sexual maturity when being 15 years old whereas females only need to wait 6 or 7 years to experience motherhood. Yet when it comes to birth I guess not many of you knew that walruses “have hair before they are even born” and that their color when calves comes to be an ash grey.
The birth part may be quite great in the world of walruses, yet I happen to find quite interesting the courting part. Wouldn’t you find it interesting too when discovering that male walruses use to sing for their mates? Not only do they sing but they also use their flippers to drum on their chests. Isn’t this simply an amazing show? At least this is how I envisage all their loud and visual performance. The interesting part comes when discovering that males do have their own interest for everything to come out just well, because their target consists not in just one female walrus but in a whole harem as researchers managed to find out. Now kind gentlemen wouldn’t you toss and turn around too if it were for you to have a number of ladies sitting at your feet and waiting for you to do the thing. It may sound rather funny to many of you yet for the sake of perpetuation of species this is what actually female walruses are claimed to do. Yet, even so, males do have to struggle a little bit to get there, as females do not offer themselves on a silver plate.
Have you ever wondered which comes to be the life expectancy in the case of walruses? In case you ever wondered then I am here to tell you that walruses are said to live up to about 40 years. Do walruses age like we do and if they age how can one tell their age? The funny thing about walruses (for us humans at least) is the fact that regardless the age they carry their wrinkled skin with them, so one can tease them and tell that they are always old, yet the thing is that researchers have come to tell us that when walruses age their skin gets paler. So, they do get old after all and surprisingly and ironically enough they do not feel the need to suffer any surgical operation to fix their wrinkles. I am just being ironic of course.
Yet I didn’t tell you up to now how one can tell the age of a walrus. As walruses come well equipped with rather thick layers of fat, fat which is generally known under the name of blubber they have no problem whatsoever with the rather freezing temperature in the areas they call home. However, their innate equipment includes some very sharp teeth as well and one can tell the age of a walrus “by counting the rings that will form around the teeth.” So, the conclusion is that if you happen to wish how old your walrus friends happens to be you have to politely ask the walrus to open its mouth and show you its teeth. To me it sounds like “Now say aaaaa!” And while doing this I guess you may as well teach the walrus the whole alphabet. The word joke stays written all over here of course!
Yet, I guess such an effort would come to be double since in case you did not know there are two subspecies of walruses, namely the Pacific walrus and the Atlantic walrus. I find it amazing how these animals cope with the habitat in which they live extremely well and how they come well equipped with some excellent physical traits, traits which help them to carry on with their lives. Unlike us they have their own “life vest”, one with which they come equipped with and so they find themselves able to take a good nap while floating on water.
Unfortunately their innate equipment as I prefer calling it comes to be of less importance when they come to meet their greatest predator, namely man. I say this having in mind the information according to which the arctic people in Alaska are said to have used their meat to feed themselves and even to feed their dogs. As always men have proven to be quite inventive and walruses did not make an exception as people are said to have made full use of their intestines to make rain coats, floats and even window-covers. As for the tusks they use these ones to make necklaces. The rather weird part comes when finding out that in the past “native mothers would use the walrus blubber as a pacifier for her baby”. That must have been quite disgusting for the poor baby, yet there was no way he could refuse it or express his opinion, was there? Wish to know how mothers did this pacifying thing? It is said that they would “take a chunk of blubber, put a stick through it sideways and let her baby suck on it.” How gross can this be! Yet I guess they didn’t have the more modern comforters back then and they felt like having some silence and peace too and so look for some primitive replacements.
Talking about men as the biggest predator in the case of walruses I may as well add that global warming comes to be a threat too in their case. As they depend on the layers of ice that are to be found in the Arctic area, global warming comes to be a rather huge issue for walruses. It is well known that walruses use these layers of ice as a place to rest, some sort of a bed and hospital in their case since they rest there and they also give birth to baby calves there.
And while I am in my walrus mood I may as well end up wondering what does a walrus try to tell us when emitting sound like bells or when whistling, grunting, clicking and whatever other sounds they emit. They may just try to tell us “I am a walrus and I am really proud of this”, yet they may as well just feel like letting us know that they too have read Lewis Carroll and thus choose to quote her. And since the night has already installed in here, the walrus may add to the phrase “I am a walrus.” the following words “The night is fine, ‘the Walrus said. / ‘Do you admire the view?’”11