Ocean Currents » walrus http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 28 Apr 2017 22:26:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Vote Walrus for 2017 Favorite Unloved Species http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/27/vote-walrus-for-2017-favorite-unloved-species/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/27/vote-walrus-for-2017-favorite-unloved-species/#comments Fri, 27 Jan 2017 15:01:31 +0000 Marja Diaz http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13654

This year, Ocean Conservancy is proud to be a part of the 2017 Wildscreen World’s Favourite Unloved Species Campaign, dedicated to showing love for endangered and unloved species. We’ve nominated the walrus as our favorite unloved species, but we need your help! Vote now, check out our campaign page, and together let’s raise the profile of this incredible species.

What’s to love?

When you think of the walrus, you might picture large, prominent tusks and handsome, bristly whiskers, but there’s so much more to these Arctic giants. Walruses are social animals, often found bellowing and snorting in herds up to a thousand large. Like us, walruses live complex social lives, thriving off interactions with one another. And even more like us, walrus truly love to eat. When not lounging on Arctic sea ice, or resting on dry land for breeding season, walruses can be found diving for food. They scan the ocean floor with their whiskers, in search of shellfish, cephalopods and pretty much anything else. The walrus, capable of living in some of the coldest places on Earth, is an iconic and essential piece of the Arctic marine ecosystem. We think the walrus is an incredible, social and misunderstood species that deserves some well needed time in the spotlight, and we hope you agree!

What are the threats to the walrus?

Perhaps the greatest threat to the walrus is the disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic, due to rising global temperatures. Not only do walrus depend on sea ice as a crucial habitat and resting platform, but retreating sea ice also opens the Arctic to potentially harmful industrial activity, like commercial shipping and risky oil and gas drilling. Increased activity in this fragile ocean space could result in added pollution, more frequent ship strikes on marine mammals and an increased risk of chronic and catastrophic oil spills that could cause irreversible damage to the marine ecosystem that walruses depend on.

What are we doing to save them?

Everything we can! For years, Ocean Conservancy has worked to protect the vital Arctic habitats of the walrus. From protecting Hanna Shoal—a vital walrus habitat—from oil and gas leasing, to working to ensure that Arctic leasing was not included in the five-year leasing program, Ocean Conservancy has long been active in the fight against risky offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Most recently, our initiatives included supporting tribal efforts to secure important protections for the Bering Sea and the Bering Strait through the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area. However, our work is far from done, and we will continue to work with government leaders, indigenous peoples and other stakeholders to advocate for sustainable solutions to ensure a healthy and prosperous environment in the Arctic.

Remember to click here and vote walrus for 2017 Favorite Unloved Species!

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6 Reasons to LOVE Arctic Important Marine Areas http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/10/29/6-reasons-to-love-arctic-important-marine-areas/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/10/29/6-reasons-to-love-arctic-important-marine-areas/#comments Sat, 29 Oct 2016 13:21:00 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13245

This was originally posted as part of the Vital Arctic Ocean Areas blog series. See all posts here

This summer we were fortunate to share a blog series brought to us by Arctic scientists — experts working to study and understand the habitat, species and ecological changes happening at the top of the world. It’s rare for those of us who live a ways away to see a glimpse of this vibrant, and beautiful place, but our blog series aimed to bring YOU into the Arctic Ocean. We shared scientist stories about how truly special this place is. And how important the Arctic is, not only to the animals and people that thrive there, but to the overall health of our ocean. If you missed reading the blogs, we encourage you to check them out now. Here are just a few of the reasons we think you’ll enjoy reading the series.

1. Sustaining life

Both year-round and seasonal residents of the Arctic Ocean rely on a remarkable burst of productivity driven by sunlight that occurs during the brief summer months. During this short ice-free season, nutrient-rich waters provide fuel and sustenance for an amazing variety of species. This incredible abundance makes the Arctic Ocean critically important to whales, seals, walruses, birds, and fish, and other creatures. Read more…

2. More than meets the eye

Amazing creatures live beneath the surface of the Arctic Ocean! You may not want to dive into the icy waters to explore — but scientists have braved the cold to discover an ecologically diverse abundance of fish and invertebrates. In some of the most important marine areas, millions of microalgae coat the underside of ice floes, and a universe of crabs, snails, brittle stars, sea stars and polar cod live around and amid the sea ice. Read more…



3. It’s truly for the birds! 

Birds from all over the world flock to the Arctic. Seabirds big and small fly to the Arctic Ocean region to nest, lay their eggs and raise their chicks. Millions of birds take advantage of the richness of the Arctic summer to fill up and refuel before continuing their migratory journeys. It would take too long to list all the birds that use some of the more unique and bird-friendly places in the Arctic, but a few include: Black-legged Kittiwakes, Thick-billed and Common Murres, Horned and Tufted Puffins — King, Common, Steller’s, and Spectacled Eiders, Long-tailed Ducks, and Arctic, Yellow-billed and Red-throated Loons. Read more…

4. Abundant wildlife

There is an abundance of wildlife in the Arctic Ocean — including some of the most iconic animals in the world. Polar bears prowl the ice looking for ringed seals. Other Arctic seals include ringed seals and massive bearded seals. Pacific walruses, too, call the Arctic home. They dive from ice floes and use their sensitive whiskers (called vibrissae) to locate mollusks on the ocean floor. A variety of whales swim in much of these waters, including communicative beluga whales and enormous bowhead whales, some of which can live over 200 years. And gray whales undertake an epic migration — up to 12,000 miles round-trip — to spend summers to take advantage of some of the richest areas of Arctic marine habitat. Read more…

5. The importance of durability during times of change

While the entire Arctic Ocean is important, some key areas have persistent sea ice or notable levels of primary productivity that fuel the food chain. Scientists in our blogs are finding that this is often tied to geophysical features in the ocean. Even in the Arctic where temperatures are warming twice as fast as those elsewhere on Earth, the areas that are productive today are likely to be for many years to come. That’s why it’s so important to protect the vital marine areas — because of their durability. Keeping these areas healthy will have enduring benefits for the larger Arctic marine ecosystem. Read more…

6. So much left to discover

Scientists and researchers still have more to learn and explore. We are only beginning to understand how rich and diverse the Arctic Ocean region is and how important this area of the world is to communities who live there, the rest of the U.S., and the planet. We need to continue to study and learn more about this varied and rapidly changing ocean ecosystem as well as learn from the expertise of Alaska Native residents of the Arctic. Only then, will we truly know how to preserve an intact Arctic ecosystem — and what’s at stake if its most valuable habitat is compromised or harmed. Read more…

The Vital Arctic Ocean Areas blog features posts by scientists about important marine areas in the U.S. Arctic identified by science. Based on the Arctic Marine Science Synthesis.

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10 Things to Know About the Walrus http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/19/10-things-to-know-about-the-walrus/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/19/10-things-to-know-about-the-walrus/#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 13:30:41 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12079

This blog was written by Roger Di Silvestro, a field correspondent for Ocean Conservancy.

When you think of walruses, you may picture their tusks—the huge pinniped’s most familiar characteristic. But there is so much more to these “elephants of the sea”! Here are some less-obvious facts about these ice-dwelling creatures.

1. Biologists classify the walrus as a carnivore, or meat eater, which puts the animal in the same broad category as wolves, foxes and lions.

2. The polar bear, weighing as much as 1,200 pounds, is often touted as North America’s largest terrestrial carnivore. But it’s a mere wisp compared to the ocean-going male walrus, which can tip the scales in excess of 3,700 pounds.

3. Walruses depend on sea ice, and spend much of the summer on flows from which they dive into relatively shallow waters in search of food. In winter, the walruses go to shore and feed in near-shore waters. They communicate with grunting and roaring sounds.

4. Despite their size and their ability to stay underwater for up to half an hour, walruses are not deep divers—they usually feed at depths of less than 300 feet.

5. Walruses find much of their food by poking around on the ocean floor. When a walrus finds a tasty crab or clam buried in sand, it creates powerful suction with its mouth to vacuum it up. Walruses are not picky eaters—they feed mainly on mollusks, but will also eat worms, cephalopods, crustaceans and more. They even nosh on an occasional seal, though observations of walruses hunting their close relatives are rare.

6. Walruses are able to locate buried food thanks to the 400-700 stiff bristles, or vibrissae, which grow on their muzzles. Like a cat’s whiskers, vibrissae are sensitive to touch, telling the walrus when it has come in contact with an appropriate food. Vibrissae can grow up to a foot long, but scraping against sand and rock usually keeps them shorter.

7. Adult walruses have few enemies, mostly due to their massive size and sharp tusks, which can grow to more than three feet long. Bears sometimes attack young walruses, as do orcas. A bear attack on a beached walrus herd can make the pinnipeds rush headlong for the safety of water, causing injuries to adult walruses in the general crush and making them vulnerable to bear attacks.

8. The scientific name for the walrus genus is Odobenus, which is Greek for “tooth walker,” so-called because walruses sometimes use their tusks to haul themselves onto ice.

9. The brownish, heavily seamed skin of the walrus is over 1.5 inches thick and covers a layer of blubber that can get to 3.9 inches thick.  The skin grows paler as the animals age, until the dark brown of the young fades to cinnamon in mature animals. The color depends partly on blood flow to the skin; when in cold water, blood flow to the skin reduces, so the skin of a pink walrus can turn nearly white.

10. Walruses breed from January to March while winter is in full swing, and females give birth about 16 months later. A newborn calf can weigh 100 to 165 pounds and may stay with the mother for two years or more, though usually weaned after a year.

The Ocean Conservancy is using science-based solutions to tackle the biggest threats to our ocean, including ones that threaten walruses and other wildlife. See how you can take action.

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5 Reasons to Protect the Bering Strait http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/01/25/5-reasons-to-protect-the-bering-strait/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/01/25/5-reasons-to-protect-the-bering-strait/#comments Mon, 25 Jan 2016 14:30:48 +0000 Erin Spencer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11354

The Bering Strait is worth fighting for.

Located between Alaska and Russia, the Bering Strait is the only marine gateway between the icy Arctic and the Pacific Ocean. At its narrowest point, the strait is only 55 miles wide.

The Bering Strait may be narrow, but it is teaming with wildlife. It is both a bottleneck and a pathway, home to species superbly adapted to this dynamic environment. It’s a place like nowhere else on earth, and one that we must fight to protect.

Here are five reasons the Bering Strait is worth saving:

1. It’s home to some of the Arctic’s most iconic residents

When you think of Arctic animals, what comes to mind? Walruses? Bowheads? Belugas? All of these species and more can be found in the Bering Strait’s incredibly nutrient-rich and productive waters. This narrow stretch of water is critically important, not only to Arctic species, but also to wider-ranging species like gray whales, spotted seals and migratory seabirds.

2. It has a rich history

For countless generations, residents of Bering Strait communities have hunted and fished in the region’s rich waters and on the sea ice that forms each winter. This subsistence way of life is inextricably connected to health of the marine ecosystem. Now, warming temperatures, melting sea ice and other changes are impacting traditional subsistence practices and pose significant challenges to Bering Sea communities.

3. It’s a seabird’s paradise

An estimated 12 million seabirds nest and forage in and around the Bering Strait. The region is home to a number of designated “Important Bird Areas”, which are places of essential habitat for bird species including spectacled eiders (south of St. Lawrence Island), pelagic cormorants, black-legged kittiwakes, and least, parakeet and crested auklets. Overall, the Bering Strait region is the largest bird concentration area in Alaska. More broadly, the Bering Sea boasts North America’s largest concentration of breeding seabirds.

4. It’s a superhighway for Arctic animals

Springtime in the Bering Strait brings one of the largest migrations in the world. Each year, millions of birds and hundreds of thousands of marine mammals follow retreating sea ice north through the Bering Strait. Throughout the journey, ice-dependent seals use the sea ice for resting and feeding, while polar bears and walruses use the ice to hunt.

5. It’s running out of time

The Bering Strait is under threat. Retreating sea ice is shrinking crucial habitat while increasing potential for oil and gas exploration, shipping and other industrial activities that contribute to higher levels of vessel traffic. Higher traffic levels in these icy, foggy, and rough seas increase the risk of oil spills and other accidents that could cause irreversible damage to the marine ecosystems and jeopardize the ability of Bering Strait communities to hunt and fish in their local waters.

This region is home to one of the most productive ocean ecosystems on the planet—and it needs our help. Will you take a stand to protect the Bering Strait?

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Victory in the Arctic: Shell Terminates Drilling Activities in the Chukchi Sea http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/09/28/victory-in-the-arctic-shell-terminates-drilling-activities-in-the-chukchi-sea/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/09/28/victory-in-the-arctic-shell-terminates-drilling-activities-in-the-chukchi-sea/#comments Mon, 28 Sep 2015 19:17:23 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10779

Early on Monday morning, Shell announced that it would no longer pursue oil-drilling activities in the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska. Shell’s announcement has been a long time coming, and marks a major victory for all those who have opposed Arctic drilling as too risky and too much of a threat to the Arctic ecosystem and the planet’s climate.

Shell purchased its Chukchi Sea leases in 2008, but was precluded from drilling on its leases for many years. Among other things, legal challenges exposed flaws in the government’s environmental analyses and the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster resulted in a temporary restriction on Arctic drilling. In 2012, Shell finally received the green light to drill in the Chukchi Sea, but the company was woefully unprepared for the challenge: vessels were not ready, spill response equipment failed under testing, equipment spewed air pollution in violation of standards and one of its drill rigs was swept ashore in a storm on the way back to Seattle. In the end, Shell failed to complete a single well in 2012.

This year, when Shell finally returned to the Arctic, it did so under intense scrutiny. Government regulators ensured that Shell conformed to rules designed to protect vulnerable species like Pacific walrus. This meant that Shell could only operate one of its two Arctic drilling rigs and could only drill for a short window of time during the ice-free summer season. Activists protested the presence of Shell’s Arctic vessels in in Seattle and Portland, highlighting the risk of an oil spill in icy and remote waters—and the risk to the planet’s climate if Shell found and developed a massive oil reservoir in the Arctic Ocean. And Shell encountered at least one problem reminiscent of its failed 2012 season when one of its ice-breaking vessels struck an uncharted object, opening a gash in its hull.

Despite these challenges, Shell persisted with its efforts to complete an exploration well in the Chukchi Sea. But when the company final did so earlier this summer, it found that there was not enough oil to justify additional exploration at the prospect. In a press release, Shell announced that it would “cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future.” In addition to the sub-optimal results from the exploration well, Shell cited high costs and challenging regulations as reasons for giving up.

Shell’s decision to retreat from the Arctic Ocean is great news for the bowhead whales, walruses, ice-dependent seals and other wildlife species that could have been devastated by an oil spill in this remote region. Local communities depend on marine mammals like these to support a subsistence way of life that stretches back for thousands of years.

Shell’s decision to leave the Arctic Ocean should be viewed as an affirmation of all those who joined together in opposition to Shell’s risky drilling schemes. Now that the immediate threat of oil drilling has ended, we can focus on crafting sustainable solutions for long-term health in this rapidly changing region.

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Tell the Department of Interior to Protect Walruses http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/10/tell-the-department-of-interior-to-protect-walruses/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/10/tell-the-department-of-interior-to-protect-walruses/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 12:00:11 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9332

When I first saw the photo above, I couldn’t believe it was real.

Those are 35,000 walruses – packed together onshore in Alaska.

If you’re saying to yourself “that doesn’t look normal,” you’re right. Packs like this were unheard of before 2007.

The sea ice walruses usually rest on is disappearing, forcing them to come all the way to shore between feedings. These changes to sea ice are putting walruses at great risk.

Now, Shell has proposed a plan to drill for oil in the waters where walruses live, feed, and raise their young. Risky Arctic drilling will cause even more stress for the walruses that are already struggling to cope with the loss of sea ice. We need to stop Shell’s plan.

Click here to tell the Department of Interior to protect the walrus’s home. Say no to risky Arctic drilling.

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A Tribute to Mothers: A Look at the Ocean’s Great Moms http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/05/10/a-tribute-to-mothers-a-look-at-the-oceans-great-moms/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/05/10/a-tribute-to-mothers-a-look-at-the-oceans-great-moms/#comments Fri, 10 May 2013 21:25:27 +0000 Jim Wintering http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5767


Every year around Mother’s Day I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have both a mother and grandmother who have been there to guide me during the challenging times in life. Recently, this got me thinking that there are probably tons of examples of great mothers in the ocean who are similarly there for their children over the years. So whether you’re a mother yourself or you completely forgot it was that time of year and you need to rush to the store today, take a minute to celebrate Mother’s Day with us and read on to find out more about some awesome ocean mothers:

Manatee mothers show a tremendous dedication to their offspring that starts with nursing within a few hours of giving birth. Their calves are usually weaned within a year, but these mothers typically stick around for up to two years, and are often found right alongside their calves. Mother manatees actively block predators by swimming in between the calf and any potential threat. Furthermore, manatee mothers not only provide their children with nutrition, but also teach them about feeding areas and preferred travel routes.


Some parents are incredibly protective of their children, and a perfect example of that would be walrus mothers. These moms defend and protect their calves intently, and are known to shelter their young from danger under their chest. They also will carry their calves on their backs as they swim through the water. There is even some evidence that walrus mothers may care for orphan calves, showcasing their awesome care-taking abilities.

In the case of of orcas, or killer whales, mothers not only provide for their children in youth, but are there for them well into adulthood. Studies have shown that when a killer whale’s mother is around, it significantly increases the young’s chances of survival. Killer whales can live into their 90s, but females stop reproducing in their 30s or 40s, which similar studies point to as indicating that having an older female around improves the chance of survival for all of her descendants.

Polar bear mothers typically give birth to twin cubs who stay by their mother’s side for more than two years as these mothers protect their children from the fierce elements of the Arctic, while also teaching them valuable survival skills, including how to hunt for food. These great mothers of the North raise the cubs on their own, and are known for aggressively defending their young until they have matured enough to take care of themselves.

If you’re looking for an ocean mother who makes huge sacrifices for her young, an octopus might be your best bet. Octopus mothers lay 50,000-200,000 eggs and take time to group them in the best manner possible. The mother then spends this incubation period doing everything that she can to protect the eggs from predators. She’ll do so at the expense of her own health, being so devoted as to stop hunting for her own food, which often leaves her too weak to even survive after the eggs hatch.


The ocean is full of great mothers capable of reminding us of all of the sacrifices that moms around the world make for their children. With that in mind, we at Ocean Conservancy would like to express our gratitude to all mothers out there, and wish them a Happy Mother’s Day, whether they live in the ocean or back at home in places throughout America and around the globe.

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