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Walruses crammed together on the Chutotka coast in far-eastern Russia 
	© WWF Russia/Polar Bear Patrol/ V Kavry

Walrus

The walrus is easily recognised by its sheer size and magnificent tusks. It is a keystone species in Arctic marine ecosystems. The walrus was once threatened by commercial hunting, but today the biggest danger it faces is climate change.

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  • scientific name

    Odobenus rosmarus

  • weight

    400 to 1800 kg

  • length

    2.2 to 3.6 m

  • population

    Atlantic ~18,000, Pacific ~200,000 & Laptev ~5,000

  • Status

    Vulnerable

    IUCN

  • Amazing tusks

    The walrus uses its tusks to keep breathing holes in the ice open, to fight, and to haul itself out of the water on to an ice floe

 
	© Mirko Thiessen / Wikipedia
Map of walrus distribution
© Mirko Thiessen / Wikipedia

Walruses and people

Walruses have long played an important role in the culture, economies and diets of Arctic peoples. Walrus meat, fresh or fermented, supplements locals’ diets in a region where store-bought food can be prohibitively expensive. Artists carve walrus ivory, and this practice provides cultural benefits and much-needed income.
 
	© Staffan Widstrand / WWF
Chukchi carving in walrus tusk ivory, depicting walrus and whale hunters, Chukotka, Siberia, Russia, Arctic.
© Staffan Widstrand / WWF

Threats to walruses

Climate change

Walruses depend on sea ice as a platform for feeding and resting, and a warming Arctic is disrupting their normal patterns. In the past decade, earlier melting of sea ice in summer sea ice has forced abnormally large numbers of walruses ashore on the coasts of Russia and Alaska. These “haulouts” of up to 35,000 individuals can be deadly, particularly for walrus calves that are crushed in stampedes provoked by disturbances.

Industrial impacts

As sea ice melts, walrus populations will be exposed to more industrial activity, like shipping and oil and gas exploration. In addition to direct impacts like icebreaking ships and disturbance to walruses on shore, there’s an increased risk of oil spills. A WWF study found that oil spills on ice are virtually impossible to clean up.

Unsustainable hunting

Limited numbers of walrus are hunted in the United States, Canada, Greenland, and Russia. WWF supports up-to-date research into population trends to ensure the hunt remains sustainable.

© Paul Nicklen/National Geographic Stock / WWF-Canada © Norbert Rosing/National Geographic Stock / WWF-Canada © Corey Accardo / NOAA © Alexey Ebel / WWF © Cameron Dueck / WWF

What WWF is doing for walruses

Contributing to walrus science
Compiling global knowledge on walrus populations, threats, management, and gaps in current understanding of walruses in a report: The State of Circumpolar Walrus Populations. In addition, WWF supports research in Russia and traditional knowledge workshops in Canada. 

Working with communities
WWF works with Arctic Peoples to protect habitat and reduce industrial threats to walrus.

Planning for a warmer Arctic future
WWF's work on climate change aims to cut global greenhouse gas emissions to prevent dangerous climate change, and aims to help species such as the walrus adapt to changes which are already occurring.

Support our work

 
	© WWF
© WWF

Did you know?

    • All male walruses, and some female walruses, have a large air sac in their throat which helps keep their head above water and also makes a bell-like sound during mating.
    • The tusks of a walrus can reach 1m in length.
    • The word walrus is thought to be derived from an Old Norse word meaning "horse-whale".

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