Walruses near Kvitøya in the Svalbard archipelago, Norway
© Ole Jorgen Liodden/Minden Picture
I am the walrus
It takes a special class of ship to push through the sea ice to get to these walruses. This herd of gentle giants is bobbing in the waters of the Svalbard archipelago, roughly midway between continental Norway and the North Pole. Walruses spend more than half their day in the water, masterfully foraging for clams and other marine organisms. The rest of the time, they hang out on ice floes, the males and females huddled separately, taking a break before diving in for more food. Walruses launch from the ice to eat, making the floating blocks an important part of their survival. With the effects of climate change increasing, arctic ice is melting, posing an existential threat to the ancient pinnipeds.
Although walruses are agile swimmers, they move slowly on land, using their flippers and long tusks to lumber about. Walruses also use their tusks to fight and to poke up through the ice. The animals are big, growing up to 3.6 metres, with tusks that can be as long as one metre. That may seem intimidating, but actually tend to be friendly and kind. You are unlikely to spot one outside of its herd, which can number in the hundreds.