Relaxed yet irksome, graceful yet clumsy, gentle yet ferocious, the walrus (aiviq) is a paradoxical animal that defies categorization. They can often be found packed like sardines on ice floes, but that doesn’t stop one from occasionally rising up and jabbing his or her neighbor with a pair of ivory tusks. On land, these massive mammals (adult males can reach 3.5 metres and 1,400 kilograms) move with the grace of three-legged elephants, but in the water they are masterful swimmers.
Walruses dine extensively on clams, using their sensitive whiskers to detect the unfortunate mollusks on the sea floor. An adult walrus eats as many as 3,000 clams each day, although they also eat other bottom-dwelling creatures such as fish, crabs, worms and snails. Because they rarely dive deeper than 75 metres, walruses stay close to shallow waters
. The walrus’s most distinguishing feature is its tremendous overbite. Both male and female walruses are blessed with these dentures. Despite their Latin name, odobenidae (“those that walk with their teeth”), walruses don’t actually use their tusks for walking. Neither are the tusks used to dig up food. The tusks, serving as a symbol of dominance or social rank, are also used to help animals haul themselves from the water.
Walruses are restricted to Hudson Bay, the waters around Baffin Island, and the High Arctic.
*Reproduced from an article titled “Marine Mammals” by Mike Vlessides contained in the Nunavut Handbook.