All Posts / Animal Appeal / Slightly Off Topic

Live Walrus Cam Has Me Wondering About Tusks

Pacific walrus. NFWS

Pacific walrus. NFWS

Walrus tusks have always seemed like rather improbable dentition to me, but watching the two-ton animals galumphing up the beach at Round Island in Alaska has just pushed me to find out more.

The live-streaming webcam was recently switched on after a decade of dormancy thanks to private funding that will not only support the camera, but allow the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to staff the island with two employees. Round Island is one of seven sanctuary islands in northern Bristol Bay that constitute the largest land-based haul-out sites for Pacific walruses in North America. As many as 14,000 male walruses have been counted on Round Island in a single day. The Fish and Game staff will welcome visitors and prevent boats and aircraft from disturbing the walruses.

Walruses are fascinating creatures, and I could watch them all morning if I didn’t have work to do. As an excuse to gawk just a little longer, I’m trying to observe the “tooth-walking” that supposedly justifies those ridiculously large canine teeth. According to National Geographic, the animals use their tusks to pull themselves onto the beach.

I’ve been watching for quite a while in hopes of seeing one dig its tusks into the black sand and heave itself landward. What I saw gave me the impression they were making use of the surging waves to propel themselves forward while trying to keep from stumbling over awkward ivory protrusions hanging from their faces. Maybe I need to just keep watching.

The most unlikeliest of forms. Now that's a walrus on the beach. (captured from the explore.org webcam 5.22.15)

The most unlikeliest of forms. Now that’s a walrus on the beach. (captured from the explore.org webcam May 22, 2015)

It might also be worth checking in every few hours. Tidal ranges in Bristol Bay are among the most extreme in the world. What looks like a wide beach in the morning can be nearly 30 feet underwater by afternoon.

In addition to the walrus-cam, you can see other live-streaming video from around the world at the Pearls of the Planet series, by explore.org.

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2 thoughts on “Live Walrus Cam Has Me Wondering About Tusks

  1. Hey, I have been watch the Walrus Cam too and have so many questions, but no one to ask. Internet searches have nothing but basic information. What I have noticed, and perhaps you as well, is when they are hauling up on to the beach they will often times poke other walruses in an attempt to get a better spot. Some Walruses, can be rather pushy jerks constantly poking an individual until it either moves or challenges it. I do not know why a particular walrus does not just go to the periphery or less dense area to haul up to, but as I have seen, will often times go right up the middle causing problems with others until the right spot is found. Perhaps it is safer to be in the middle. I have also seen the walruses lying on their backs with tusks facing upward. I do not know if that is simply for comfort, or is a means of displaying their own tusks to keep others from usurping their spot or disturbing them. I also do not know if there is significance to those who have broken/lost one tusk as far as dominance/mating either. As far as seeing them toothwalking, the only thing I have seen is a few using them to rest on rather than lying on their back or on another walrus.

    If you have also noticed on this live cam, there are little groups not too far away down the beach. They can have anywhere from a few together to about 20. Why have they not joined the pile of hundreds? Are they juveniles? Are they from another social group? Females? I have watched quite a bit lately and have noticed too that there does not seem to any voiding/defecating in the big blobby pile of walruses either. Is their metabolic processing rate very slow and therefore there is no need to relieve themselves often.

    Like I said, I got a million questions and cannot find anyone, any articles, web pages that go into any real detail besides the basics. I would hope people would come here and we can have our own discussions to possibly get an idea of what we are seeing.

    • You bring up a lot of very interesting questions to which I don’t have answers. I have only assumptions based on my general knowledge of Walruses. They are very social and the males do compete for dominance. Perhaps that’s why some will haul out in the middle of a crowd and poke and prod for his place. Why that’s a choice place, I can’t say, but if they’re anything like my kids, they want that spot because everyone else has that spot. I would suggest you look into this website from USGS’s Alaska Science Center’s Walrus Research program: http://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/walrus/
      US Fish and Wildlife Service also studies Walrus and there’s lots of information here: http://www.fws.gov/alaska/fisheries/mmm/walrus/wmain.htm
      In both cases, you can find research staff at these organizations working on walruses. Good luck, and please come back and post what you find!

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