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Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus)

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WalrusThe walrus is closely related to the seal but forms its own family, the Odobenidae. Walruses lack external ears and have long tusks, a thick, wrinkled, nearly hairless skin except for long bristles on the cheek pads, and rotatable hind flippers that facilitate locomotion over ice. They grow to enormous size: males may be 12 ft (3.7 m) long and weigh up to about 3,000 lbs (1,400 kg). Females are only slightly smaller. Walruses use their tusks to climb out of the water onto the ice, to stir up clams and other bottom shellfish, and in aggressive encounters.

Most walruses live in herds, and in the late winter and spring they drift along on large floating ice fields. Female walruses have one calf every other year, in April or early May, and the calf may stay with the mother for two years. Walruses may live for up to 40 years. They have long been a source of food, ivory, blubber-oil fuel, and hides to Eskimos. In recent history walrus populations have been devastated by overhunting for their tusk ivory.

The walrus head in the museum was donated by the Koshell family of Sacramento. The walrus was an alpha bull or herd master. He was eventually defeated in battle by a younger, stronger male and was quite upset that he no longer had the prior mating opportunities. He hung around the fringe of the herd and occasionally would take his frustration out on whoever got in his way by jabbing them with his tusks.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife managers of the herd decided that the herd would be better off without his presence. However to capture him and transport him to somewhere else was not practical. Even if they could capture him and do the transport he had learned the location of the mating/pupping grounds and would soon be back. With his continuing damage to other animals it was decided that he should be killed. A member of the Koshell family of Sacramento obtained a permit to ‘take’ the animal.

A photographer and 16 mm movie camera was arranged for to document the hunt. As the photographer was set up on the edge of the ice sheet on the Chuckchi Sea of Alaska’s southeast Arctic Ocean to document the events, the combined weight of the camera and cameraman caused the layer supporting them to break and start drifting out to sea. Suddenly the hunt was postponed and a rescue put into action. Later the hunt was resumed. The hunter did not have a high powered rifle but instead a long bow and arrows. The pull weight of the bow was 90 pounds. The moral of the story is “Don’t be a bully!”

The tusks are plastic replicas of the original teeth. They use them to dig up clams on the bottom of the sea to eat. They suck up a mouth full and crunch them with their crushing molars. Like humans eating a mouthful of sunflower seeds they can separate the soft, edible, inner parts from the outer hulls that they spit out.

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