Species Profile

Atlantic Walrus

Scientific Name: Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
Range: Nunavut, Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Arctic Ocean
Last COSEWIC Assessment: April 2006
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status

Individuals of this species may be protected under Schedule 1 under another name; for more information see Schedule 1, the A-Z Species List, or if applicable, the Related Species table below.


Go to advanced search

Related Species

Species COSEWIC
Status
SARA
Status
Atlantic Walrus ( Northwest Atlantic population ) Non-active Extirpated

Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Atlantic Walrus

Atlantic Walrus Photo 1

Top

Description

The Atlantic Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus) is a large, sociable marine mammal. It is one of two subspecies that are still in existence; the other is the Pacific Walrus (O. r. divergens). Together they are the only living representatives of the family Odobenidae. Some common names include Aivik (Inuktitut), Morzh (Russian), Rostungur (Icelandic), and Valross (Swedish). It has the following characteristics: large body with limbs that have developed into flippers; front flippers support the body in an upright position; hind flippers similar to seal hind flippers; skin is between two and four cm thick; upper canine teeth develop into long tusks; longer and broader in males than females; moustache made of quill-like whiskers; hair on newborns is silver grey; sparse adult hair; cinnamon brown in colour; may appear pink on a warm day or white after a lengthy dive; newborns weigh about 55 kg and are 1.2 m long; adult males reach up to 1,100 kg in weight and 3.1 m in length; females 800 kg and 2.8 m.

Top

Distribution and Population

The global range of the Atlantic Walrus includes the central Canadian Arctic to the Kara Sea in the east, Svalbard in the north, and Nova Scotia in the south. Two distinct populations, one east and one west of Greenland, exist within this range. In Canada, the Atlantic Walrus occurs from Bathurst and Prince of Wales islands to Davis Strait, and from James Bay north to Kane Basin. Four distinct Canadian populations still exist: South and East Hudson Bay, Northern Hudson Bay - Davis Strait, Foxe Basin, and Baffin Bay (High Arctic). A fifth Maritime population is considered extirpated.

Top

Habitat

The habitat requirements of the Atlantic Walrus are very specific. They need large areas of shallow, open water (80 m or less), which support an abundant clam community. In addition, there must be ice or land nearby to ‘haul out’. Moving pack ice is ideal for this purpose; however, in the summer and fall when ice is scarce, large herds congregate and haul out at uglit, which are often located on low, rocky shores with steep subtidal zones. Mating occurs from February to April. Little is known about their reproduction because they mate in the water and in remote areas. Males mature between 7 and 13 years of age. They compete for females and may even defend access to them for up to five days. Females mature between 5 and 10 years of age and give birth on average every three years. Gestation lasts about 11 months and the young nurse for up to 27 months. Protective care by mothers and the herd assures high calf survival.

Top

Biology

Diet The preferred food item is bottom-dwelling organisms such as clams and sea urchins. Walruses likely identify prey in the bottom sediments with their whiskers and unearth them with the snout. They suck clams out of their shells by creating a vacuum with their tongues. Walruses are also known to occasionally eat fish and some adults have been found with pieces of seal or whale skin and fat in their stomachs. Walruses less than three years old consume mostly milk. Similar Species There are no similar species. The Pacific Walrus, a subspecies, is heavier with longer tusks and a wider head.

Top

Threats

The Maritime population was heavily hunted, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, and by the end of the 18th century had been extirpated. Hunting is also the most important current threat to the four populations that still exist. In addition, human activities that create noise and disturbance may cause walruses to abandon uglit or stampede, resulting in calf mortalities and spontaneous abortions. By comparison, however, this and other threats such as contaminants, climate change and industrial development, are minor to the impacts of hunting.

Top

Protection

Federal Protection

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

Top

Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

5 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Atlantic Walrus Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus in Canada (2006)

    Walruses are large gregarious pinnipeds with front flippers that can support them upright, like otariids, hind flippers that are structured and function like phocid seal hind flippers, upper canine teeth that grow into long tusks, and a moustache of quill-like vibrissae. They are about 120 cm long and 55 kg at birth; males can grow to about 315 cm (~1100 kg) and females to about 277 cm (~800 kg). Their sparsely haired skin is cinnamon brown but can appear pink on a warm day or almost white after a long, cold dive. The Atlantic walrus, Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus (Linnaeus, 1758) is one of two extant subspecies of the walrus, the other being the Pacific walrus (O. r. divergens). The taxonomic status of walruses inhabiting the Laptev Sea is uncertain.

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment - Atlantic Walrus (2006)

    The Atlantic Walrus in Canada was originally treated by COSEWIC as two separate populations: Eastern Arctic population (Not at Risk in April 1987 and May 2000) and Northwest Atlantic population (Extirpated in April 1987 and May 2000). In April 2006, COSEWIC included both populations in a single designatable unit for Atlantic Walrus in Canada, and the species was designated Special Concern. Last assessment based on an update status report.

Response Statements

  • Response Statements - Atlantic Walrus (2006)

    Five populations ranging from Nova Scotia to the high Arctic are recognized for management purposes based on geographical distributions, genetics and lead isotope data. Some of the populations appear to be at greater risk than others due to over-hunting, and may be threatened. However, knowledge about population structure is insufficient to assess them separately. The Nova Scotia-Newfoundland-Gulf of St Lawrence population was hunted to extirpation by the late 18th century. Sporadic recent sightings of individuals and small groups in the Gulf of St Lawrence and off Nova Scotia are not considered evidence of re-establishment. The South and East Hudson Bay population is believed to number in the low hundreds, although population size and structure are poorly known. Observations from the late 1930s to the present suggest that numbers declined significantly, but the rate of decline cannot be quantified and it is not known whether the decline is continuing. The small population size suggests it may be vulnerable to disturbances and small increases in hunting effort. The total size of the Northern Hudson Bay-Davis Strait population could be as small as 4000-6000 individuals. Its ability to sustain minimum current removals is questionable. Some portion of this population is hunted in Greenland waters. The Foxe Basin population was estimated to be 5,500 in 1989. It is unknown if current exploitation rates are sustainable. Hunting is believed to have reduced the Baffin Bay (High Arctic) population to only a few percent of the number present in 1900. Limited information suggests the current population is small and that a portion of it continues to be hunted at unsustainable levels in the North Water area of Canada and northwest Greenland. However, satellite tracking and genetic information suggests that some animals in this population are resident in the Canadian Archipelago (west Jones Sound and Penny Strait / Lancaster Sound) and are not exposed to over-hunting.  Better information is needed on population sizes and composition, seasonal movements, vital rates, and hunting mortality. The biggest threat is over-hunting, particularly on populations that inhabit the southern and northern ends of the species’ current range. The species is near to qualifying for threatened status and requires an effective plan to manage hunting. No Management Plans are currently in place for the species. Although quotas have been set in few communities, it is not known if they are adequate to prevent over-hunting.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2006 (2006)

    2006 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation Workbook on the addition of the Atlantic Walrus to the SARA List as a species of Special Concern (2006)

    Your opinion is being sought to assist the government of Canada in making an informed decision on whether to add the Atlantic Walrus to the Schedule 1 (the List of Wildlife Species at Risk) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Your input on the impacts of adding this species to the List is important. This workbook has been developed to give you an opportunity to provide Fisheries and Oceans Canada with your feedback, advice, and other comments regarding adding this species to Schedule 1 of SARA (Schedule 1 identifies which species are legally protected under SARA).