When most people think of the walrus, they think of the big tusks the animals use to haul themselves out of the water. Those tusks, which grow continuously, can reach lengths of up to 40 centimetres. The tusks are also useful for creating breathing holes when the walrus are swimming under the ice.

There are two subspecies of walrus: O. rosmarus rosmarus is the Atlantic walrus, found in eastern Canada and the High Arctic. O. rosmarus divergens is the Pacific walrus, which only occasionally wanders into the western Canadian Arctic from Alaska.

Whichever subspecies you are looking at, walrus resemble large seals that have dark brown skin covered with a thin layer of tiny brown hairs. Underneath their skin, walrus have a generous layer of fat to help them withstand the cold. Walrus also have whiskers on either side of their faces, which help them locate food, such as clams and shellfish, on the ocean floor.

Walrus spend a lot of time on land or pack ice. Because of their size, they appear to move slowly and sluggishly. However, unlike seals, walruses can move on all fours, allowing them to run as fast as humans in short spurts. In the water, they are quite graceful and can dive up to 90 metres. They can also stay under for up to 30 minutes.

Fast Facts: Walrus

Species name: Odobenus rosmarus 

Average weight: 1,400 kilograms (male); 900 kilograms (female)

Average lifespan: up to 40 years

Tread Carefully

Walruses are very sensitive to disturbances. An approaching plane or boat can cause them to stampede into the water.

Name Game

The scientific name for the walrus, Odobenus rosmarus, is Latin for “tooth walking sea-horse.”

Record Holder

The largest single herd of walrus in Canada has about 5,000 members. It lives in the Foxe Basin, where numerous polynyas (areas of open water surrounded by pack ice) create good habitat.

Did you know?

The walrus has whiskers on either side of its face that act as a food detector, locating clams and shellfish on the ocean floor.