Find the best places to hunt Walrus in Canada and discover the Walrus's Physical Description, Range, Habitat, Food Source, Breeding Habits, and Status.

Provinces with Walrus Hunting

Nunavut Resident and Non Resident

 

Special note for

Non-Canadian Hunters

If your country does not allow the importation of walrus tusks or walrus skins.

You will not be allowed to bring your trophy back to your native home.

You are advised to review your countries import laws prior to booking a hunt. 

Selecting a Calibre to Hunt Walrus

This hunt is done a extremely close range. (25 to 35 yards.) The use of a .338 or .375 is highly recommended for this job and anything lighter than a .300 magnum will not do the job.

Vital Shot Placement for Walrus

Vital shot placement on this species is crucial. Remember that a wounded walrus will plunge into the sea where you cannot track nor follow him. This results is a lost trophy and a lost hunt. Shot placement for these reasons are recommended in the neck or in the brain. It is imperative that you get in close and drop your quarry to prevent its escape to the sea.

Range - Distribution and Habitat of the Walrus

In Canada, The Atlantic walrus inhabits the area from Bathurst and Prince of Wales islands in the west on eastward to Davis Strait. And with in that east west range it northern boundary is the Kane Basin southward to James Bay. In this area there are four well defined Walrus subpopulations.

This mammal fills a very narrow ecological slot in that it requires large areas of water with a depth of 80 m or less and a bottom that will support a population of productive aquatic molluscs. Suitable ice flows or nearby land masses on which to haul out onto are also in the formula for a successful walrus population.

Known to gather in large herds, they are more linked to hauling-out on pack ice for much of the year than the land based beach haul-outs (called an “uglit”) when ice is absent in the in summer and fall. Favoured beaches tend to have protective areas when there are strong inland winds, heavy seas, easy access to the water for feeding, and a quick escape route to the water.

Walrus distribution as of late has moved away from populated regions to areas that are less accessible by hunters. This strategy by the walrus has previously been seen in the past with each modern change that arrived. First with whaling boats in the 1920s then again with motorized boats circa 1940-1960 and they are moving further as longer range high speed boats have come on the scene.

 
 Walrus Range Map of Canada
Walrus Range Map of Canada 

Source: https://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=15533749-1&offset=7

Modified by: Canada-Hunts.ca 


South and East Hudson Bay, pop. 500

Thee South and East Hudson Bay covers an area of about 65,000 km2. We are looking at the territory from the Ottawa Islands southward to the Ekwan Point area of western James Bay. A survey was done 1955 on this herd and it was estimated to be 1000 strong. Since then there has been no extensive review of the walrus herd in this region. Current estimations are made from spot observations at different locations and in different years. Estimates put this population at 410+ in 1988 and a questionable 500 in 1995. The only recent piece of data came from the year of 2000 that states that the Inuit generally travel to the Sleeper Islands to hunt. Personally, this data is too old and too scattered to tell what the true status of this herd is.

Northern Hudson Bay - Davis Strait, pop. 4,000-6,000

This area encompasses an area of over 385,000 km2. It covers the area from Arviat on the west coast of Hudson Bay northward and eastward through the Hudson Strait on to the Clyde River on the east coast of Baffin Island. The number of walruses in 1988 was estimated to be 4,850–5,350 animals, and in 1995 it was set at 6,000 individuals. Errors in the latest estimate are to be expected as the review for the area given was not and organized for the entire area and the results were not corrected for walruses that could have been missed by the observers. These results certainly leave a degree of ambiguity but in light of no newer data it cannot be updated.

Foxe Basin, pop. 5,500

The Foxe Basin, an area of about 50,000 km2, historically it was not in the shipping routes nor whaling grounds and as a result did not see the extensive hunting that the other regions saw. The latest data puts this concentration at 5500 individuals (1989 data) and again surveys did not cover the entire area nor take into account individuals that may have been submerged.

It is thought that this congregation is isolated from the others and that there is very little migration of other groups into this one. Migrations if any are most likely to arrive by ice flows.

Baffin Bay (High Arctic), pop. 3,000

The Baffin Bay region covers an area over 150,000 km2. This area extends from the north shores of Baffin Island, westward to Bathurst Island, north to Kane Basin, and northwest to Greenland. The best guess as to the size of this herd is about 1,700- 2,000 animals and could top 3,000.

This population appears to be separated from southern Canadian walrus populations but this herd is common to Canada and Greenland.

Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus )

Walrus on Sea Ice

Walrus on Ice Flow
By Ansgar Walk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Atlantic Walrus is a large sociable marine mammal and is one of two subspecies of the family Odobenidae, the other is the Pacific Walrus. A relative of the seal and sea lion, this is the second largest Pinniped (fin-footed mammal). Its’ color is cinnamon brown although it can look pink on a warm day or white after a long dive. The thickness of its’ skin can range from 0.79” – 1.57” (2 – 4 cm) and except for its flippers, is covered by a thin layer of small coarse hairs.

Being a Pinniped, it has large front flippers that can support its body in a raised posture and smaller rear flippers similar to those of a seal. Both sets are used to help propel itself through the water, dive to depths of 260 feet (80 m), and lumber-out of the water at an Uglit.

The iconic feature of the walrus has got to be its long tusks (teeth) that both males and females develop. Males will develop thicker tusks that can attain a length of 3 ft., while those of a female will be about 2.5 ft and thinner in diameter. In both cases, the tusk is used for defending itself from predators, keeping breathing holes in the ice open, hauling-out, and establishing dominance during the mating season.

Above those tusks you will find a moustache made up of 600 to 700 course whiskers. These whiskers are used to detect shellfish on the ocean floor and to aid in the collection of shellfish. It has a thick upper lip with which is sucks up the shellfish and cracks them open by creating a vacuum with its tounge.  

The walrus does not have external ears, what it has is a small hole or fold in the skin about 8 inches behind its eye. Its skull is wide and robust enough to use as a battering ram for breaking through overhead frozen ice up to 8 inches thick.

A special adaptation for this species comes in the form of two air pouches in its throat. By inflating them, the walrus is able to provide itself a life preserver with which it can easily float with its head above water. This system works so well that they are able to sleep in open water. This sack is also used during mating season to make bell-like sounds.

Walruses can survive the cold and ice of the arctic by reducing heat losses during extreme cold conditions through constriction of blood flow to its extremities. Armed with 6 inches of blubber they are able to stay out and sleep on the ice at temperatures to –31°C even if a heavy wind is blowing.

The walrus has a very bulky body and with all of that mass and blubber, adult males can weigh up to 2,425 lbs (1,100 kg) and attain a length of 10 ft (3.1 m). While females will only weigh 1,763 lbs. (800 kg) and have an overall length of 9 ft. (2.8 m.).

During the non-breeding seasons, it will haul-out on beach heads and ice flows in large segregated herds comprising of  only males or females. There can be a lot of aggression in these herds and it appears that the larger the walrus the more aggressive it will be. They try to establish a hierarchy of dominance through their threatening displays.

Migration of walruses occurs on the moving sea ice and in general this migration is in a northerly direction in the summer and in a southern direction in the winter.

In search of food it spends most of its time out at sea, but because they feed in relatively shallow waters 65 – 98 ft. (20-30M). They don’t stray far from shore.

Diet and Foraging Strategy of the Walrus

Walrus Underwater

Walrus Swimming
Photo from: Pixabay

Male and female walruses have comparable diets but the females have a more proficient digestion system. The diet of walruses that are less than three years of age is made up of mostly milk.

Their diet is varied and opportunist in nature. They will feed on bottom dwelling (or benthic) marine organisms, including shrimp, crabs, tube worms, soft corals, tunicates, sea cucumbers, and various mollusks. They will also take fish, ringed seals, bearded seals, seabirds, , prey on ice-trapped narwhals, scavenge whale carcasses and some large bulls will eat young walruses.

The food of choice is the bottom-dwelling organisms such as clams and sea urchins. To forage for clams it does so by moving along the sea bottom, searching for clams with their whiskers, sweeping away the bottom debris with their flippers or uncovering them with their snout once one is found.

The walrus extracts the meat out of the shellfish by placing the shellfish between its lips, tongue, and roof of its mouth. The roof of the walruses’ mouth has a unique arch. Using the seal between its lips and by quickly drawing down its tongue it creates a vacuum that opens the shellfish.

The walrus will average 24 min per dive and will consume 55 lbs. (25 kg) of clams a day. This foraging activity has a benefit to the benthic community in that it disturbs the sea floor. This disturbance releases nutrients into the water, stirs up the organisms and encourages the movement of many organisms.

Often with the aid of floating sea ice, walruses visit the shallow shelves of the ocean in order to forage on the sea floor. The walrus may stay out for as long as 56 hours in the water before hauling-out again. They usually only dive an average of 65 – 98 ft (20 – 30 m) deep which is not much for a mammal that has been satellite tracked to dive 590 ft (180 m.).

Breeding and Reproduction of the Walrus

Cow and Calf Walrus 

Walrus Cow and Calf
Photo By Ansgar Walk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The age of sexual maturity for a bull walrus arrives somewhere between 7 and 13 years old but may not mate until it is large enough to compete for a harem of his own at 15 years of age. The females’ first ovulation will occur in the range of 5 to 10 years of age and she will calve every three years thereafter. The females will have a reduction in propagation rates once they reach the ages of 16-18.

The female walrus has more than one estrous cycle per year and comes into heat in late summer and around February. However, the bulls are only fertile around February. So, it is not surprising to see that mating occurs from February to April.  The bulls accumulate in the water around ice-bound groups of estrous cows. They then generate a sonnet of bell like tones from the sack in their neck. Receptive cows will join them and the pair will copulate in the water. During this period, there is a drastic decrease of food intake and the competition for cows by bulls is aggressive.  Bulls try to collect harems of receptive cows and will defend access to them for up to five days. The males will mate with as many cows as he can but the cow will only mate with one bull and her likely choice to mate with will be the male that was attending the herd when she became receptive.  

There is a delay before the cow’s embryo is actually implanted to the wall of its uterus in late June or early July. Gestation for the embryo lasts about 11 months in order to produce a single calf in May or June. The pregnant females will haul-out on to the northward moving ice pack.  Calves are born weighing 99 to 165 lb (45 to 75 kg), are about 4 ft (1.2 m) in length, no tusks, have a moustache, are silver grey in color, and are able to swim with their mother within minutes of birth.

The calf will soon loose it silvery coat and it will be replaced by a short coat of brown hair. Female walruses produce a very rich milk that contains about 30% fat and a high amount of protein. Nursing mothers take their calves with them while foraging for food and will nurse the calf at sea. The calf nurse and stay in the mother’s protective care for the next 24 to 27 months and calves may stay with their mother for up to 5 years. Additional protection for the calf is found in the confines of the herd and high calf survival rates are attained when compared to other pinnipeds. This is good news as the walrus has a low reproductive rate at only 10% per year. Naturally over-hunting and environment changes will have a drastic effect on that rate of reproduction.

Some walruses may live to 35 years of age but the real expectancy is about 20–30 years. 

 

Status of the Walrus in Canada

Walrus Hunting in the Old days.

Walrus hunting in the old days
Photo By Beverly B. Dobbs, National Geographic [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The walrus is listed by COSEWIC as an animal of Special Concern (April 2006). This mammal is considered a keystone species in the Arctic marine ecosystem. Hunting in some parts of the walrus territory was carried on large scale commercial basis in the 17th and 18th centuries and in the case of the Maritime population, they wiped it out.

Walrus Protection Regulations in 1928 were created to protect the walrus in Canadian Waters from commercial and sport-hunting, however, limited hunting by the Inuit people was allowed to continue. Since that time the hunting by non-aboriginal people had been banned until 1995 when non-resident, non-aboriginal hunts were allowed in Nunavut, if those hunts were arranged and guided under the auspices of the Inuit people.

The Government of Canada, Species at Risk Public Registry states. “Hunting is also the most important current threat to the four populations that still exist.”  This citation mentions poor and wasteful hunting techniques. The walrus also appears to be quite sensitive to decomposing animal flesh from hunting remains that have been discarded at the uglit. The tainting of the haul-out and feeding grounds causes the herd to leave the area.

Noises and disturbances are on the list as causes of injury and mortality for the walrus. This threat is from passing boats, ships, and aircraft that cause the walrus herd to stampede. The reaction is for the herd is to rush back into the water and in the process the herd tramples calves, walruses that are sick, and cows may abort foetuses in the process. If the noises and disturbance persist over time the herd may actually abandon the Ujlit. This is especially true if the human presence had a traumatic effect on the herd.  Ujlit abandonment factors in addition to noise disturbances include the smell of humans, dogs etc.

Natural predators of the walrus come from two sources, the KiIler (Orca) whale (Oreinus orea) and polar bears (Ursus maritimus). The polar bear has two clear methods in which it hunts the walrus. The first and most effective way is for it to find a walrus that has been frozen out of its breathing hole and then to stalk it. Rough sea ice will aid the Polar Bear in its deception and lay a last minute charge on the walrus once it is close enough. The size of the walrus has a big bearing on this method as it is only effective on younger walruses because a full grown walrus with its long tusks and aggressive mass is more than a match for a Polar Bear.

The second method used by the Polar Bear is to rush an Ujlit in hopes that the herd will rush into the sea and trample some in the process. It is typically young calves, wounded individuals, and sick walruses that are left behind. Again any full grown wounded walrus is a formidable opponent to handle and a direct attack is not a wise move for the bear. Predation by Polar Bears, are cited to at their highest in the late winter and early spring.

Killer whales hunting and killing a walrus in not a common event. The killer whale pod, when at sea, will attempt to separate an individual walrus and then try to subdue it by hitting it with its tail. The second method is to rush into shore and grab a younger walrus that has ventured too close to the shoreline. Unbelievably the whale does not have a high success rate at either method but none the less these interactions occur in the spring, summer, and fall.

The effects and impact that diseases have on the walrus is not understood.   

The susceptibility of walruses to disease is not well understood. There is evidence that a bacterium called Brucella sp., which can cause reproductive failure, is present in some marine mammals.  Morbillivirus antibodies are frequent in the eastern Canadian Arctic population indicating some risk to the phocine distemper virus (PDV) or a related virus is present. 

A health warning to humans is that the walruses is often infected with the helmith parasite Trichinella. This can cause trichinellosis (or trichinosis) in humans who are eating uncooked walrus meat.

A second heath warning is that you should not eat the liver of a walrus as it contains toxic amounts of Vitamin A.

 

Climate change is cited as an issue of concern for almost every animal on this plant but because the walrus will use land based haul-outs and for that reason climate change NOT cited as a issue. A drop in population densities may occur, but the species should remain intact. What may be a greater influence on walrus survival from climate change and the ice pack receding may a drop in population of clam populations.

Conclusion, the latest information on the walrus is 22 years old and at that it is based on observations by untrained people over long periods of time and possibly great distances in the sightings. For this author, speculation is my key word. My speculative opinion is that if hunting is truly the main concern for the walrus survival and not disturbances, contanimants, climate change, nor natural predation. Then the survival of the walrus has for the 90 years had the best protection that we can give it and survival still sits firmly on the shoulders of the aboriginal people who need to possibly show better management efforts.

 

References

  • http://www.cosewic.gc.ca/eng/sct1/searchdetail_e.cfm?id=915
  •  http://septentrio.uit.no/index.php/NAMMCOSP/article/view/2855
  •  http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/reportcard/walruses.html
  •  http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/species/profiles/mammals/walrus/
  •  http://www.brage.bibsys.no/xmlui/bitstream/handle/11250/173046/Meddelelser
  •  http://www.cs.mcgill.ca/~rwest/link-suggestion/wpcd_2008-09_augmented/wp/w/Walrus.htm
  • http://www.Department of Fisheries and Oceans-mpo.gc.ca/csas/Csas/status/2002/SSR2002_E5-17,18,19,20e.pdf
  • https://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/cosewic/sr_atlantic_walrus_e.pdf
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walrus
  • http://www.Department of Fisheries and Oceans-mpo.gc.ca/species-especes/profiles-profils/walrus-morse-eng.html
  • http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/csas/Csas/status/2002/SSR2002_E5-17,18,19,20e.pdf

Photo Credits - Background

Polar Cruises - Flickr

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