After-Dinner Walruses

by Barbara Post Expert review

It seems luck was with us when Ortelius arrived at Ardneset on the southwest tip of Wahlberg√łya. An announcement by expedition leader Rinie Maurs called our attention: A dozen male walruses had been spotted on a snow bank above the beach!

Ship: m/v Ortelius

Regions: Arctic

Destinations: Svalbard

Highlights: Walrus

Dinner and a walrus sighting

What an exciting day! 

In the morning we snowshoed in Faksevågen, and in the afternoon we cruised among the pack ice in Hinlopen Strait. Then we enjoyed our dinner and exchanged our experiences that day, but none of us expected another adventurous activity…

A big pile of brown walrus bodies

It seems luck was with us when Ortelius arrived at Ardneset on the southwest tip of Wahlbergøya. An announcement by expedition leader Rinie Maurs called our attention: A dozen male walruses had been spotted on a snowbank above the beach!

We rushed out on deck to see if it was really true, and through our binoculars we saw their big brown bodies and white tusks. 

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 the soothing fresh air. On the way to the beach, our Zodiac was followed by seabirds, including kittiwakes and northern fulmars soaring acrobatically in the sky. Arctic terns were giving their high-pitched calls and dived down onto the water surface to catch small fish or crustaceans.

What a show!

Walruses elegant in the water

Before we even reached the walruses dozing 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, 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.

Only male walrus

Mostly young adult males, but also a couple of calves, have been observed this evening. There is an interesting sexual segregation in Svalbard: The male walruses (bulls) tend to stay in Spitsbergen, while the females (cows) stick together with their calves and prefer the northeastern parts of Svalbard and Franz Josef Land. 

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. The walruses have earned a few more fans!

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