Select Page

The genus Odobenus, commonly known as the walrus, is one of the most recognizable marine mammals inhabiting the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. These large pinnipeds are characterized by their distinctive tusks and thick blubber layer that helps them survive in cold waters.

The name ‘Odobenus‘ is derived from Greek words meaning ‘tooth-walker,’ referring to the animals’ unique method of using their tusks to haul themselves onto ice floes.

Walruses belong to the family Odobenidae, which includes only one extant species: Odobenus rosmarus. This species is further divided into two subspecies based on geographic range: the Atlantic walrus (O.r. rosmarus) and Pacific walrus (O.r. divergens).

Despite being separated by a vast distance, these two subspecies share many physical characteristics such as size, weight, and tooth structure. However, they differ in behavior and habitat preferences due to differences in oceanography and food availability between their respective ranges.


Physical Characteristics Of Walruses

Walruses, members of the genus Odobenus, are a large marine mammal with distinctive physical characteristics.

They have thick skin that can be up to 10cm (4in) in thickness and is covered in short reddish-brown hair.

In addition, they have two long tusks made of ivory protruding from their upper jaw which can grow up to a meter in length.

These tusks play an important role for walruses during hunting practices as well as social interactions.

Walruses also have evolutionary adaptations that allow them to survive in their unique environment.

For example, they are able to slow down their heart rate when diving deep into the ocean for food by diverting blood flow away from non-essential organs such as the kidneys and liver.

Additionally, walruses have specialized muscles around their nostrils that allow them to close off their nasal passages so they can dive deeper without water entering their lungs.

These adaptations enable walruses to hunt successfully and thrive in harsh aquatic environments.

Distinctive Tusks And Their Functions

The walrus is a unique and fascinating marine mammal, known for its distinctive tusks that protrude from its upper jaw. These tusks are elongated canine teeth that can grow up to three feet in length and weigh as much as 12 pounds each. They play an important role in the walrus’s survival, serving various functions such as defense, foraging, and mating.

Evolutionary history has played a significant role in shaping the walrus’s tusks. Studies have shown that these tusks evolved over time due to sexual selection, where males with larger and more impressive tusks were favored by females during mating season.

Additionally, cultural significance has also been attributed to the walrus’s tusks, especially among indigenous communities who use them for traditional purposes such as carving tools and decorations.

Despite their importance to both the animal itself and human cultures around the world, walruses continue to face threats such as climate change and habitat loss which puts their population at risk.

Thick Blubber Layer For Surviving In Cold Waters

Marine mammals are well-known for their remarkable adaptations to an aquatic lifestyle, including the possession of thick layers of blubber insulation. The walrus is no exception, as it has a particularly thick layer of subcutaneous fat that serves multiple purposes in its frigid Arctic habitat.

The following list outlines some key functions of the walrus’s blubber layer:

  1. Thermal insulation: Blubber acts as a highly effective insulator by trapping air pockets and reducing heat loss from the body.
  2. Energy storage: Walruses rely on stored energy reserves during periods when food availability is low or non-existent.
  3. Buoyancy control: By controlling the amount of air they inhale into their lungs, walruses can adjust their buoyancy and remain suspended at different depths in the water column.
  4. Protection against physical trauma: The thickness and elasticity of blubber affords protection against external injuries such as blunt force impact.

Overall, the thick blubber layer found in marine mammals like the walrus represents a critical adaptation to living in cold waters. Through this mechanism, these animals have evolved to maintain sufficient body temperature while conserving vital energy resources needed for survival without compromising mobility or other essential physiological functions.

Geographic Range Of The Atlantic And Pacific Walruses

As the saying goes, ‘the world is their oyster,’ and for walruses of both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, this holds true in terms of their geographic range. These marine mammals are known to be migratory animals that travel extensively throughout different regions in search of food resources.

The Atlantic walrus can typically be found along the coasts of northeastern Canada, Greenland, and Svalbard during summer months. During winter months, they migrate southward towards areas with polynyas or open water patches where they can feed on mollusks and crustaceans.

Meanwhile, the Pacific walrus’ migration patterns cover a larger area spanning from northern Alaska, across Russia’s Chukotka Peninsula, towards Siberia’s Laptev Sea. They tend to use ice floes as resting platforms while moving between feeding grounds, which include clams, snails, and other benthic organisms that thrive within shallow waters.

Understanding these species’ movements allows us to gain insight into how environmental changes may impact their population dynamics and survival prospects.

In terms of feeding habits, both Atlantic and Pacific walruses have been observed using suction cups located on their upper lips to extract prey from sandy bottoms or rocky surfaces. Their diets consist mainly of bivalves such as clams but also include shrimp-like krill or fish when available.

With climate change affecting sea ice coverage and ocean temperatures altering the distribution of prey items in certain areas, it remains uncertain whether these adaptable creatures will continue thriving amidst future challenges. Nonetheless, continued research efforts aimed at monitoring these fascinating animals’ behavior provide hope for their long-term conservation.

Group of walrus hauled out on ice floe in Canadian High Arctic

Behavioral And Habitat Differences Between Subspecies

The geographic range of both Atlantic and Pacific walruses is vast, covering the Arctic waters surrounding North America, Russia, and Greenland. However, despite their similar physical appearance and overlapping ranges, these subspecies display distinct differences in behavior and habitat preferences.

In this section, we will explore the behavioral and habitat variations between the two subspecies. Firstly, dietary preferences differ significantly between Atlantic and Pacific walruses. While both feed primarily on benthic organisms such as clams, mussels, snails, and worms; the Pacific walrus has a more diverse diet that also includes crabs, shrimp, sea cucumbers, octopuses, squid, fish and even seals. This difference in diet may be due to habitat preference or availability of food resources.

Secondly, social structures vary among the two subspecies with Pacific walruses tending to form larger herds than their Atlantic counterparts. These herds can number up to 10 000 individuals during migration periods while Atlantic herds tend to be much smaller with an average size of around 2000 individuals.

Other notable differences include preferred haul-out locations where Pacific walruses prefer resting on ice floes whereas Atlantic walruses generally use land-based sites. The environmental conditions within each species’ range likely influences these choices as well as contributing factors such as competition for space from other marine mammals like polar bears or killer whales.

Overall it is clear that there are significant differences between Atlantic and Pacific Walruses regarding their behavior and habitats which should be considered when managing conservation efforts for either species.

Conservation Status And Threats To Walrus Populations

The walrus is a unique marine mammal that lives in the Arctic regions of North America and Russia. These animals are known for their large size, distinctive tusks, and social behavior. However, despite their impressive characteristics, walruses face significant threats to their survival.

One major threat to walruses is climate change. As sea ice melts due to rising temperatures, walruses lose crucial habitat and feeding areas. This loss can have severe consequences for the species’ ability to reproduce and maintain healthy populations. Additionally, human activities such as hunting and pollution also pose risks to walruses. In some areas, these mammals are still hunted for their meat or ivory tusks. Pollution from oil spills or other sources can damage the environment where walruses live and harm individuals directly through exposure to toxins. Despite these challenges, conservation efforts are underway to protect this iconic species.

Conservation EffortsCurrent Population
Reduction of HuntingApproximately 200K
Protected HabitatDecreasing
Public EducationIUCN Red List: Vulnerable

To address the threats facing walruses, various conservation measures have been implemented by governments, NGOs, and local communities. One approach has been reducing hunting pressure on these animals by regulating subsistence harvests and enforcing bans on commercial trade in walrus products.

Protected habitats have also been established in some areas where these mammals occur regularly; however, with melting sea ice decreasing over time it poses an even greater challenge.
Additionally, monitoring programs track population dynamics and trends to better understand how environmental changes affect walrus health and survival rates.

Public education initiatives help raise awareness about the importance of conserving this unique animal among local communities and the general public. Finally, scientific research provides critical information on walrus biology, behavior, and ecology that can inform conservation strategies moving forward. While much work remains to be done to ensure the long-term survival of walruses, these efforts offer hope for this remarkable species in a changing world.


Genus Odobenus, more commonly known as walruses, are fascinating creatures that inhabit the Arctic regions of both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. These marine mammals have unique physical characteristics, such as their long tusks that serve various functions including foraging for food and defense against predators. Walruses also possess a thick blubber layer that insulates them from the cold waters they reside in.

While there are two subspecies of walruses with some behavioral and habitat differences between them, unfortunately both populations face threats to their survival. Climate change, loss of sea ice, hunting and poaching continue to impact these magnificent animals.