After dinner Walruses

by Barbara Post Expert story

Antarctic Peninsula

Ship: m/v Ortelius

Regions: Arctic

Destinations: Svalbard

Highlights: Walrus

After dinner Walruses

What an exciting day - in the morning snow shoeing in Faksevågen and in the afternoon a ship cruise in the pack ice north in Hinlopen Strait! Satisfied we enjoyed our dinner, exchanged our experiences of the day, nobody expected another adventurous activity…

A big pile of brown bodies

It seems luck was with us when Ortelius arrived at Ardneset on the south west tip of Wahlbergøya! An announcement by expedition leader Rinie called our attention:  a dozen male walruses had been spotted on a snow bank above the beach. We rushed out on deck to see if it is really true. Yes! Through our binoculars we saw brown bodies with clearly visible white tusks, loafing in a big pile above the beach. That must be the walruses!

Sunshine and dive bombing birds

The sun was shining, the sky was blue, our faces full of expectations – we could not wait to go off the ship. In two groups we drove with the zodiacs on the glassy sea and breathed in the soothing fresh air. On the way to the beach our zodiac was followed by sea birds including kittiwakes and northern fulmars, soaring acrobatically in the sky. Arctic terns were giving their high-pitched calls and dove down onto the water surface to catch small fish or crustaceans. What a show!

Walruses elegant in the water

Before we even reached the dozing Walruses on the beach, three of them were swimming towards us. Every now and then they curiously raised their head out of the water and demonstrated the fluid beauty of their swimming movements. Several times they quickly dived down to the bottom of the sea and popped up again in another place. This was certainly entertaining us for a while and it was a challenge to get nice pictures of those swimming beauties.  

Clumsy on land

We kept a respectful distance from the walruses on land, as we did not want to disturb their digestion sleep. It seems these social animals were relaxed about our presence while the boats were approaching them. Their movements looked clumsier on land, compared to their elegant swimming style in the water. They periodically raised their heads up, gave deep roars, and then pounded down with their tusks on the back or neck of a neighbour, who in turn passed on the favour to the next animal nearby.

Only male Walrus

Mostly young adult males but a couple of young ones has been observed on this evening. There is an interesting sexual segregation in Svalbard: The bulls tend to stay in Spitsbergen, while the cows together with their calves prefer the northeastern most parts of Svalbard and Franz Josef Land.  For certain we enjoyed their presence in the soft light of the late evening. It was fairly late by the time everyone was back on the ship but it was a memorable Arctic day. After this night - for sure - the walruses have some more fans!

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