The Atlantic walrus is known for its commanding presence, whiskers and long ivory tusks, which are used to break ice and climb out of the water. Tusks are found on both male and females and can grow up to three feet long. The walrus is related to seals and sea lions, and similar to the fin-footed marine mammals, they congregate in large groups.
In Canada, you can find small populations of Atlantic walruses distributed in the High Arctic and Central-Low Arctic. The Atlantic walrus was hunted to near extinction for its ivory, meat and blubber from the 17th century through the 19th century. By the end of the 18th century, the population found in the St. Lawrence, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia had been hunted to extinction. The more southern population called the Northwest Atlantic is extirpated, and it’s unlikely they will return to the region.
Killer whales and polar bears are the only natural predators of the Atlantic walrus, but in both cases, the walrus is not an easy catch. Because of its size and tusks, predators often abandon hunting efforts.
Shrinking sea ice is opening the Arctic to economic opportunities resulting in an increase in shipping through sensitive marine habitats. Because of the walrus’ sensitivity to noise, a disturbance of this nature can result in a stampede, which may lead to injury and death to many individuals. Low flying planes and oil and gas-related activities also startle walruses. Disease also spreads quickly when many of these mammals congregate in close quarters. Walruses have been known to abandon haul-out sites due to shipping traffic and underwater noise created by oil and gas-related activities.
In late summer and early fall, when sea ice is at its minimum, land-based haul-out sites become critically important habitats. WWF works to minimize disturbances to these sites by pushing for long-term land protections. Through the Arctic Species Conservation Fund, WWF supported the mapping of haul-out areas that are currently informing decision-makers through the Nunavut Land Use Plan process. This management plan could grant protections to these habitats.
What WWF is doing
We also support gatherings of walrus experts across Nunavut to develop management strategies based on Inuit knowledge for walruses in the territory.
While we are still learning more about the Atlantic walrus, it is WWF’s priority to support a sustainable Indigenous hunt that ensures the long-term survival of the subspecies.
AT A GLANCE
Status: Special Concern/data deficient
Adult Weight: Up to 2,400 lbs
Diet: Molluscs found at the bottom of the sea
Population: Estimated to be around 21,400 individuals
Location: Eastern Artic of Canada, Greenland and Norway
What is a haul-out?
Conserve Arctic Habitat