odobenidae

Walrus

Walruses, Odobenus rosmarus (Odobenidae), are not the most classically beautiful creature in the Arctic, but they are one of the iconic species of the far north, and there is something strangely appealing about them.

This male has lots of battle scars from the tusks of other males. Males seem to divide their time between sleeping, fighting and feeding. They use their moustache bristles to search for clams in the murky depths.

Photo credit: ©Tim Melling

Locality: Svalbard (Arctic)

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A mass of thousands of walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) were spotted hauled up on land in northwest Alaska during NOAA aerial surveys earlier this week. An estimated 35,000 occupied a single beach – a record number illustrating a trend in an unnatural behavior scientists say is due to global warming. No longer able to find sea ice, walruses turn to land to rest, breed, give birth.

This year, sea ice in the arctic reached one of its lowest points since satellite monitoring began in 1979, and is expected to decline ever-further. 

A member of the family Otariidae, also known as the eared seals. Otariidae is one of three families of pinnipeds, the other two being Odobenidae (whose only member is the walrus) and Phocidae. Otariidae includes sea lions and fur seals, and they are easily distinguished from Phocid seals by the presence of a small external ear. Despite being distinguished by their ears, both Otariids and Phocids possess ears and are capable of hearing. Otariids are referred to as eared seals because they possess pinnae, or small ear flaps on their heads.

Otariids are interesting in that they are capable of moving their hind limbs underneath their bodies, allowing them to “walk” on land, unlike Phocid seals, who move on land using more of an undulatory motion. They also rely on their forelimbs to swim, unlike Phocids who rely primarily on their hind limbs to propel themselves underwater.

Animal by © Agnes PERROT on Flickr.