Atlantic Walrus | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Atlantic Walrus

Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus

Also known as

Walrus

Distribution

Eastern Arctic

Ecosystem/Habitat

Shallow (80m or less), open water areas with soft sea floors close to land or pack ice

Feeding Habits

Foraging predator

Conservation Status

Special concern/data deficient

Taxonomy

Order Pinnipedia (seals, sea lions and relatives); Family Odobenidae (walruses)

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The Atlantic walrus is one of the most iconic marine mammals of the Arctic, thanks to its large, ivory tusks. These tusks are actually elongated canine teeth. Both males and females have them, although the males’ tusks are much longer. Walruses are very large: adult males weigh between 1,000 to 2,000 kilograms. Because of their size, they are rather clumsy and slow-moving on land, but in the water they have smooth and graceful swimming abilities. 

Walruses were heavily hunted for their ivory and blubber, especially throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The Gulf of Saint Lawrence population, called the Northwest Atlantic or Maritime population, was hunted to “extirpation” by the end of the 18th century, meaning they can no longer be found in this area. They continue to be hunted by Inuit and other Indigenous People in northeastern Canada today as a traditional source of food and other products, with hunts co-managed by the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. There is also a small sport hunting industry for walrus, for which hunters must have a license. 

Walrus aren’t thought to be directly affected by Greenland halibut and northern shrimp fisheries in the Arctic, but they can be scared by noises on land or underwater from fishing activity. When this happens, walruses can abandon sites, potentially preventing successful reproduction. With decreasing levels of sea ice in the Arctic and more human activity, walruses will increasingly interact with fisheries. Further research is needed to better understand the affect this will have and how best to protect them.