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.
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.