Arctic Travel & Photography: All About the Walrus

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(Canon 5D Mark II, 1/1000 at f/5.6, ISO 640, 400mm)

After a cold and dark winter, the sun has begun to rise again in the northernmost regions of the Northern Hemisphere.  As the Arctic summer approaches and travellers and photographers prepare to explore the region for the first time or to return to a part of the world they simply can’t stay away from, I let my mind wander as I reflect on my own first experience of the region last year.

As I boarded Quark Expedition‘s Sea Spirit, time stood still and I stepped into another world: a world that has been inspiring explorers, adventurers, photographers, film makers and scientists for centuries.  An environment that replaces our noisy, materialistic and busy lives with deafening silence, natural landscapes and the ability to enjoy the moment.  An unspoiled part of the world that provides exhilarating wildlife sightings and photography opportunities.

Wildlife sightings in the Arctic are unpredictable, unforgettable and incredibly exciting.

One of the species that calls the region home is the Walrus.  

 

About the Walrus

The walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) is a large marine mammal with flippers, tusks and whiskers.  The Pacific Walrus can be found in the northern seas off Russia and Alaska and migrates south to the Bering Sea each season.  The species often sighted on Arctic adventures is the Atlantic Walrus that inhabits the coastal areas from northeastern Canada to Greenland.

The Basic Facts

Scientific Name:  Odobenus rosmarus (“tooth walking sea horse”)

Type:   Mammal

Diet:  Carnivore

Predators:  Orca (killer whale), Polar Bear

Size:  Up to 3.5 metres

Weight:  Up to 1.5 ton

Lifespan:  Up to 40 years

Gestation period:  15-16 months

arctic_walrus_kellie-netherwood-2

(Canon 5D Mark II, 1/1000 at f/7.1, ISO 640, 400mm)

5 Interesting Facts About the Walrus

 

1. They have multi-purpose tusks

The scientific name odobenus rosmarus means “tooth walking sea horse” and refers to one of the most distinctive features of the walrus: the tusk.  Each tusk can weigh up to 5kg and is used to haul their massive bodies from the water onto ice, to fight and defend against predators and to break breathing holes into ice.

arctic_walrus_kellie-netherwood

(Canon 5D Mark II, 1/200 at f/5.6, ISO 400, 400mm)

2. They have sensitive whiskers

What appears to be a thick, bushy moustache is in fact a collection of extremely sensitive whiskers.  These whiskers are used to seek out food along the sea floor, such as clams, mussels, worms, snails, soft shell crabs and shrimp.  Whilst the walrus prefers a diet of bottom dwelling organisms, it may scavenge the carcasses of marine mammals if food is scarce or even prey on seals, small whales or seabirds.

walrus-svalbard-arctic_kellie-netherwood

(Canon 5D Mark II, 1/1800 at f/7.1, ISO 640, 400mm)

3. They are social creatures

The walrus is a social creature who likes to congregate in large numbers, hauling out in herds.  They don’t appear to have a need for personal space on land, they snort and belch at each other , they fight for favourable haul out positions and they assert dominance aggressive displays of threat.

arctic_walrus-on-land_kellie-netherwood

(Canon 5D Mark II, 1/500 at f/4.5, ISO 400, 100mm)

4. They have been and could be endangered 

Historically hunted commercially for their ivory tusks, oil and hides, the walrus has successfully fought back from an endangered status more than once.  But as global attitudes against hunting help protect the future of one of the world’s largest pinnipeds (outsized only by the elephant seal), the accelerating retreat of sea ice threatens its natural habitat and announces the arrival of a new enemy: climate change.

arctic_walrus_kellie-netherwood-2-2

(Canon 5D Mark II, 1/1000 at f/7.1, ISO 640, 400mm)

5. They can stay under water for 30 minutes

The walrus can hold its breath for up to thirty minutes under water, helping it reach the sea floor to search for food.  It can also slow its heartbeat to cope with the cold Arctic waters.

 

Arctic Photography Tip:

Cruising the Arctic waters in a zodiac can provide incredible and unexpected wildlife sightings.  But it can also prove challenging from a photographic point of view due to the movement of the animal, the swell of the sea and the rocking of the zodiac.   To capture a sharp image, you will need to increase your shutter speed, possibly to 1/1000 or 1/2000 depending on the extent of the movement.  If your desired shutter speed and aperture is under-exposing your shots, increase the ISO.  The Arctic light is usually great for photography which means you can increase your ISO without introducing too much noise into your image.

arctic-walrus_kellie-netherwood

(Canon 5D Mark II, 1/1000 at f/7.1, ISO 640, 390mm)

 

 

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

Comments

  1. Hi Kellie! Your photos are absolutely beautiful and I really liked the ‘interesting facts’ 🙂 Thank you for sharing.

  2. What interesting creatures the walruses are! “Tooth walking sea horse” is a great name for them. Your photos are fab – what a privilege to be able to cruise about in a Zodiac and photograph them…

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