Fat Walrus: 10 Incredible Ways It Thrives in the Arctic

Fat Walrus

The Arctic is a harsh and unforgiving environment where only the most resilient creatures can survive. Among these tenacious inhabitants is the fat walrus, a remarkable marine mammal that has evolved an array of unique adaptations to thrive in this icy realm. Known scientifically as Odobenus rosmarus, the fat walrus is a symbol of Arctic resilience and a subject of fascination for scientists and wildlife enthusiasts alike. In this article, we explore ten incredible ways the fat walrus thrives in the Arctic, showcasing its remarkable adaptations and behaviours that allow it to flourish where many others cannot.

Fat Walrus Blubber: The Ultimate Insulator

One of the most notable adaptations of the fat walrus is its thick layer of blubber, which can be up to 6 inches (15 cm) thick. This blubber serves multiple purposes: it provides insulation against the frigid Arctic temperatures, serves as an energy reserve during times when food is scarce, and contributes to buoyancy in the water. Blubber’s insulating properties are critical for maintaining body heat in an environment where temperatures can plunge below -30°F (-34°C).

Key Details:

  • Blubber thickness: up to 6 inches (15 cm)
  • Provides insulation, energy storage, and buoyancy
  • Essential for thermoregulation in icy waters

Fat Walrus Tusks: Tools of Survival

The fat walrus’s elongated canines, commonly known as tusks, are not merely for show. These tusks, which can grow over 3 feet (1 metre) long, are multifunctional tools. They help fat walruses pull themselves out of the water onto ice floes, aid in fighting and establishing dominance, and are used for digging in the seabed to locate food. Both male and female fat walruses possess tusks, though they tend to be larger in males.

Key Details:

  • Tusks length: up to 3 feet (1 metre)
  • Used for hauling out, defence, and foraging
  • Present in both males and females

Fat Walrus Whiskers: Sensory Superpowers

The fat walrus’s whiskers, or vibrissae, are highly sensitive and play a crucial role in detecting food. These stiff, bristly whiskers can sense the presence of clams, snails, and other prey in the murky, dark waters of the Arctic seabed. The whiskers, numbering between 400 to 700, can move independently, allowing fat walruses to navigate and forage efficiently even in low visibility.

Key Details:

  • Number of whiskers: 400 to 700
  • Sensitive to touch and movement
  • Essential for detecting prey on the seabed

Fat Walrus Social Structure: Strength in Numbers

Fat walruses are highly social animals, often found in large groups called herds. These herds provide protection against predators such as polar bears and orcas. The social bonds within these groups are strong, with individuals often resting close together to share body heat. This social behaviour also plays a role in mating and rearing young, making the herd an integral part of the fat walrus’s survival strategy.

Key Details:

  • Herds provide protection and warmth
  • Strong social bonds among members
  • Herds facilitate mating and rearing of young

Diverse Diet: Flexibility in Feeding

The fat walrus is an opportunistic feeder with a diverse diet that includes clams, snails, worms, and occasionally fish and seals. This dietary flexibility allows walruses to adapt to the availability of food resources, which can vary seasonally and geographically. Their ability to consume a wide range of prey items is a key factor in their survival in the fluctuating Arctic environment.

Key Details:

  • Diet includes clams, snails, worms, fish, and seals
  • Opportunistic feeding behaviour
  • Adapts to seasonal and geographical food availability

Breathing Adaptations: Long Dives

Walruses are adept divers, capable of staying submerged for up to 30 minutes. This ability is facilitated by their capacity to slow their heart rate, reducing oxygen consumption and allowing them to make the most of their breath-holding capabilities. Additionally, their large blood volume and high concentration of myoglobin in their muscles help store and transport oxygen efficiently.

Key Details:

  • Can dive for up to 30 minutes
  • Slow heart rate to reduce oxygen consumption
  • Large blood volume and high myoglobin concentration

Thick Skin: Protection Against the Elements

In addition to their blubber, fat walruses possess thick, wrinkled skin that provides further protection against the cold and abrasion. This skin can be up to 2 inches (5 cm) thick and is covered in sparse hair, offering an additional barrier against the harsh Arctic conditions. The skin also aids in reducing heat loss when the walrus is hauled out on ice.

Key Details:

  • Skin thickness: up to 2 inches (5 cm)
  • Provides protection and insulation
  • Reduces heat loss on ice

Migratory Behaviour: Following the Ice

Fat walruses are migratory animals, moving in response to the seasonal availability of ice and food. During the summer, they tend to migrate to areas with abundant food supplies, while in winter, they follow the ice edge southward. This migratory behaviour ensures they remain in optimal habitats for feeding and breeding throughout the year.

Key Details:

  • Migrate according to ice and food availability
  • Summer: move to areas with abundant food
  • Winter: follow the ice edge southward

Reproductive Strategy: Ensuring Offspring Survival

The reproductive strategy of the fat walrus involves delayed implantation, where the fertilised egg does not immediately implant in the uterus. This allows the mother to time the birth of her calf to coincide with favourable environmental conditions. The gestation period is around 15 to 16 months, resulting in a single calf that is well-developed at birth and capable of quickly learning to navigate its icy environment.

Key Details:

  • Delayed implantation for timing births
  • Gestation period: 15 to 16 months
  • Single, well-developed calf

Communication: Vocal and Visual Signals

Fat walruses are highly vocal animals, using a range of sounds for communication, including grunts, whistles, and bellows. These vocalisations are used in social interactions, mating displays, and to maintain group cohesion. In addition to vocal communication, walruses also use visual signals such as body postures and tusk displays to convey information and establish social hierarchies.

Key Details:

  • Use a range of vocalisations for communication
  • Include grunts, whistles, and bellows
  • Visual signals include body postures and tusk displays


The fat walrus is a marvel of evolutionary adaptation, equipped with a suite of traits that allow it to thrive in the extreme conditions of the Arctic. From its thick blubber and sensitive whiskers to its social behaviours and migratory patterns, every aspect of the walrus’s biology is finely tuned to its icy environment. Understanding these adaptations not only highlights the walrus’s resilience but also underscores the importance of conserving its habitat in the face of climate change and other environmental threats. The fat walrus stands as a testament to nature’s ingenuity and the remarkable ways life can flourish in even the most challenging settings.


1. What is the primary function of the fat walrus’s tusks?

The tusks of the fat walrus serve multiple functions, including aiding in hauling out onto ice, establishing dominance, and foraging for food by digging in the seabed.

2. How thick is the blubber of a walrus, and why is it important?

The blubber of a walrus can be up to 6 inches (15 cm) thick. It plays a crucial role in insulation against cold temperatures, energy storage during food scarcity, and providing buoyancy in water.

3. What do walruses typically eat?

Walruses have a varied diet that includes clams, snails, worms, fish, and occasionally even seals. This dietary flexibility helps them adapt to changing food availability in their Arctic habitat.

4. How do walruses communicate with each other?

Walruses use a range of vocalisations, such as grunts, whistles, and bellows, for communication. They also rely on visual signals like body postures and tusk displays to convey information and maintain social hierarchies.

5. Why do walruses migrate?

Walruses migrate to follow the seasonal patterns of ice and food availability. In the summer, they move to areas with abundant food, while in winter, they follow the ice edge southward to stay in suitable habitats for feeding and breeding.

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