||March/April 2002 issue||
Grace under water |
Walrus facts |
The walrus and the zookeeper |
Grace under water
A thick-skinned beast reveals its inner beauty
Excerpt of story by Dane Lanken
The best way to photograph walruses in the water, apparently, is to get into the water with
them. But it's a risky business. When Paul Nicklen proposed to do this, his Inuit friends,
who know walruses better than anyone, advised against it. After all, an animal that is three
metres long, wields gargantuan tusks and weighs as much as a car is nothing to trifle with.
But Nicklen persisted. He donned a diving suit, slipped off an ice floe, stayed cool in
the presence of the behemoths and captured them hovering elegantly in their natural element.
"I moved very slowly," says Nicklen, 33, who grew up on Baffin Island, lives in
Whitehorse and is an accomplished photographer of the Far North. "I just lay in the
water. Walruses are extremely protective and can be very aggressive if they feel threatened.
The Inuit have great respect for them, as they can easily flip or sink a boat while being
Finding walruses in the first place takes some persistence. Nicklen started capturing walrus
life on film in Foxe Basin in the summer of 1995. "I was there two months and got to
photograph walruses on just one day," he recalls. "The next summer, there was a
three-week storm, high winds and lots of ice, and we couldn't get anywhere. But 1998 was
a very good year."
Walruses are arctic dwellers today, but in former times, their range was far wider. They
were found down the Mackenzie Delta and the Pacific coast and on the Atlantic as far south
as the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Bay of Fundy and even the coast of Massachusetts. To meet
an ever-growing demand for lamp oil and machine lubricants, European whalers were happy to
add any walruses they could kill to their rendering pots, and the southern walrus was gone
by the late 1700s.
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Dane Lanken, a contributing editor to Canadian Geographic, is based in Alexandria,