Monday, July 20, 2009

The walrus

The walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) is a large flippered marine mammal with a discontinuous circumpolar distribution in the Arctic Ocean and sub-Arctic seas of the Northern Hemisphere. The walrus is the only living species in the Odobenidae family and Odobenus genus. It is subdivided into three subspecies:the Atlantic Walrus (O. rosmarus rosmarus) found in the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Walrus (O. rosmarus divergens) found in the Pacific Ocean, and O. rosmarus laptevi, found in the Laptev Sea.

The walrus is immediately recognized by its prominent tusks, whiskers and great bulk. Adult Pacific males can weigh up to 4,500 pounds (2,000 kg) and, among pinnipeds, are exceeded in size only by the two species of elephant seals. It resides primarily in shallow oceanic shelf habitat, spending a significant proportion of its life on sea ice in pursuit of its preferred diet of benthic bivalve mollusks. It is a relatively long-lived, social animal and is considered a keystone species in Arctic marine ecosystems.

The walrus has played a prominent role in the cultures of many indigenous Arctic peoples, who have hunted the walrus for its meat, fat, skin, tusks and bone. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the walrus was the object of heavy commercial exploitation for blubber and ivory and its numbers declined rapidly. Its global population has since rebounded, though the Atlantic and Laptev populations remain fragmented and at historically depressed levels.

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