The Arctic seas are home to many fascinating marine mammals, from plucky seals to mighty polar bears. But perhaps the most recognizable is the walrus, with its immense bulk and long, distinctive tusks. Adult male walruses can reach lengths over 3 meters (10 feet) and weigh more than a ton.
Understandably, the sheer size and imposing tusks of a walrus make some people wonder – could walruses pose a threat to humans? Their potential to inflict harm merits consideration for anyone venturing into walrus territory.
In this article, we will examine walrus behavior and characteristics to understand what dangers they may present.
Are Walrus Dangerous?
Walruses can be dangerous animals, especially males. They are large and use their tusks to defend themselves, their young, and their territory. Adult male walruses can weigh over 1 ton and have long tusks. They use these tusks to fight other males during mating season. However, walruses are generally not aggressive towards humans unless threatened or disturbed.
There are a few reasons for this:
- Habitat: Walruses spend most of their time in the water or on ice floes, while humans inhabit land and boats. There is limited overlap in habitat, so encounters are infrequent.
- Wariness: Walruses tend to be quite wary of humans and usually flee into the water when approached. Their eyesight is poor, so they may not distinguish humans from potential predators.
- Low hunger drive: Walruses feed mainly on mollusks and other bottom-dwelling marine creatures. They do not regularly hunt large prey or view humans as food.
- Non-territorial: Walruses congregate in large groups and do not maintain defined territories to defend. They have little reason to proactively attack intruders.
While walruses are not considered damaging to humans as long as people give them adequate space, however, they can potentially be dangerous in certain situations:
- Adult male walruses (called bulls) can be aggressive during breeding season as they defend their harems of females. Their massive size (up to 2 tons) and long tusks make bulls capable of seriously injuring humans if threatened.
- Mothers with young pups will also be protective and may attack if they feel their young are in danger. However, attacks are still rare as walruses usually choose flight over fight.
- Large groups of walruses hauled out on beaches or ice floes could potentially stampede and trample anyone in their path if startled. This is more of a risk for researchers than beachgoers.
- Their tusks are sharp and used for defense. An enraged or scared walrus swinging its tusks could easily gore or kill a human.
So, in summary, walruses are not typically aggressive. However, it’s best to keep a safe distance from them. Especially males protecting their harems, mothers with young, or in large groups. Approaching too closely or disturbing their environment could provoke a defensive attack. With caution, walruses pose little danger to humans.
Are Walruses Aggressive?
Whether walruses exhibit aggressive behavior depends on the situation. But generally, they are not considered highly aggressive animals.
Male walruses can be more aggressive than females, especially during breeding season. They protect their group of females from other males. They may charge, tusk, or attack competing males trying to join their group.
Outside breeding behaviors, walruses typically avoid confrontations with humans if given adequate space. Their main natural predators are killer whales and polar bears. Walruses can pose a danger to these animals with their aggressive defense in the water. But humans are not seen as a routine threat.
Some signals that a walrus feels threatened and may act aggressively include loud bellowing or barking noises, prominent displays with their large tusks, or rapidly swimming away. These behaviors often ward off a potential threat without physical attack.
In summary, walruses are not considered highly aggressive toward humans under normal conditions. Males can be aggressive with each other when competing to mate. But proper viewing distances should prevent disturbing walruses and provoking any aggression. Their behaviors show they prefer to avoid rather than initiate confrontations.
Documented Attacks on Humans
While rare, there are documented cases of walruses attacking humans. Most incidents involved disturbing walruses or small-boat interactions. Fatal attacks are uncommon, given the number of human-walrus encounters.
Here are some notable recorded incidents of walrus attacks on humans and their outcomes:
- In 1960, a Greenland hunter was attacked and killed by a walrus while pulling his kayak out of the sea. The walrus emerged, stabbed him with its tusk, and escaped.
- In 2016, a man was killed by a walrus while trying to take selfies with the animal in an Arctic Russian nature reserve. The walrus dragged the man into the water and drowned him.
- Also, in 2016, a zookeeper and tourist were killed by a walrus during a “playful” show in front of spectators at a zoo in China.
How to Avoid Danger when Near Walrus?
Here are some tips for avoiding danger when near walruses:
- Maintain at least 150 feet of distance from walruses on shore or ice. Do not approach closer or surround them.
- Never swim or kayak near walruses in the water, as they can feel threatened by objects in their environment.
- Do not startle or surprise walruses by making loud noises or sudden movements. Keep interaction minimal to avoid disturbing them.
- Be especially cautious during breeding season when male walruses are more territorial. Give breeding herds extra space of 300 feet or more.
- Do not separate young walruses from their mothers, as the mother may attack in defense of its pup.
- If walruses seem agitated, retreat calmly and quietly to a safe distance. Avoid direct eye contact which they could perceive as threatening.
- Do not attempt to touch or interact closely with walruses, as this level of interaction could provoke an attack. Maintain visual observation only from a distance.
- Be aware of your surroundings and watch for warning signs like tusking displays or loud calls. Leave the area promptly if walruses appear distressed.
Following these viewing guidelines and giving walruses a wide berth can help ensure peaceful interactions. Respect their space and do not startle them.
How to Survive a Walrus Attack?
Walrus attacks are hazardous situations given the animal’s massive size and power. Here is some advice if confronted by an aggressive walrus:
- Stay calm: Don’t panic or make sudden movements that could provoke the walrus to attack.
- Back away slowly: Carefully retreat from the walrus while facing it. Running may trigger pursuit.
- Get to safety: Climb to higher ground or get inside a protected structure or vehicle if possible.
- Make yourself look big: Raise your arms to appear more intimidating.
- Make noise: Yell, clap hands, or bang objects together to try and scare off the walrus.
- Throw objects: Tossing rocks or debris towards (not directly at) the walrus may discourage an attack.
- Use bear spray: Potent capsaicin sprays may help deter aggression if you have them on hand.
- Fight back: As an absolute last resort if attacked, use any objects at hand to try and defend yourself.
The goal is to look imposing and noisy while retreating. With care and common sense, even close walrus encounters usually end without incident. But always exercise extreme caution around these massive marine mammals.