The Story Of Wild Animals:
Story Of The Raccoon
Story Of The Cobego
Story Of The Gazelle
Story Of The Chameleon
Story Of The Fossa
Story Of The Walrus
Story Of The Mole
Story Of The Pangolin
Story Of The Opossum
Story Of The Caffre Cat
Read More Articles About: The Story Of Wild Animals
Story Of The Walrus
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Thousands of walrus are killed every year in the Pacific ocean, but at the present rate hunting them must soon cease as the animal is fast being killed off and will probably be extinct in a decade or two. The animal is desired because of its valuable oil and tusks, but its flesh and hide are also put to use.
The walrus is an animal of enormous size. It sometimes measures nearly eighteen feet in length, and ten or twelve feet in circumference. In the upper jaw there are two long tusks, which bend downward. The head is small, the neck short, and body round. The eyes are very small, and instead of external ears there are only two small circular orifices.
The figure of the walrus is more noticeable for strength than grace, though in its outline there is a something suggestive of a bulky horse and hence our seamen sometimes call it the seahorse. Like the whale family, its body is wrapped round with a layer of oily fat; while its skin, an inch thick, is covered with close hair.
In localities where they have long been the object of man's pursuit they have grown vengeful and wary; in less frequented regions they lie on the ice in unsuspecting security, and do not suffer the approach of the hunters to disturb them. They do not willingly attack man; but when forced to fight, conduct themselves with wonderful coolness and courage clash in serried array against the boats, and with their massive tusks endeavor to capsize them. They display a truly heroic devotion to their young, and will perish in their defense.
The walrus is partial, like some higher animals, to the sound of its own voice, and will recline on the ice for hours listening to its continuous bellow.
That he is a dangerous animal to attack may be seen from the following anecdote: A young and courageous, but imprudent Eskimo, plunged his spear or harpoon into a brown walrus; the beast's savage aspect alarmed him when too late, and before using his lance he called for help. Vainly the other men advised him to retreat. "It is a brown walrus!" they exclaimed. "Auvokkaiok! Hold back!" When it was seen that the young man either would not or could not follow their advice, his only brother sprang forward and hurled the second harpoon. Almost immediately the furious creature turned upon him, and ripped him up, just as a wild boar might have done.
This ungainly creature, though so unsightly in features, is in reality quiet and inoffensive, unless attacked or roused in love-time, wen woe betide those who measure his strength, especially if he reach his native watery element. Some travelers represent him as distrustful, ferocious and suspicious. They are very seldom met with singly, but often found in herds from a dozen to several hundreds. They crowd up from the water on to the rocks or ice one after the other, grunting and bellowing. The first arrival is no sooner composed in sleeping trim, than a second comes prod-ding and poking with its blunt tusks, forcing room for itself, while the first is urged farther from the water; the second in turn is similarly treated by the third; and so on, until numbers will lie packed close, heads and tails resting against and on each other, in the most convenient and friendly manner possible. There' they sleep and snore to their hearts' content, but nevertheless, keep sentinels on guard in a singular fashion. Some one would seem to disturb another; then this fellow would raise his head listlessly, give a grunt and a poke to his nearest companion, who would rouse up a few minutes, also grunt, and pass the watchword to his neighbor, and so on through the herd, this disturbance always keeping some few on the alert.
When surprised on the ice the females first provide for the safety of their young ones by flinging them into the sea and conveying them to a secure distance; they then return with great rage to the place where they were attacked for the purpose of revenging any injury they may have received. They will sometimes attempt to fasten their teeth on the boats in order to sink them, or will rise under them in great numbers with the intention of oversetting them; at the same time exhibiting all the marks of rage, roaring in a dreadful manner and gnashing their teeth with great violence.
They are strongly attached to each other, and will make every effort in their power, even to death, to liberate a harpooned companion. A wounded walrus has been known to sink beneath the surface of the ocean, rise suddenly again, and bring up with it multitudes of others, who have united in an attack on the boat from whence the insult came.
There is still much uncertainty as to the weight which these animals will attain. Trustworthy writers set down the weight of full-grown males at from 2,500 to 3,000 pounds, but as I have seen several that weighed over 4,000 pounds, I do not accept those figures. In regard to the size of the tusks of the Atlantic walrus, a fine pair once in my possession had a total length of twenty-four inches, of which probably about eighteen inches would have protruded from the jaw during life; the weight of each of these being four pounds. Others have, however, been obtained with a total length of thirty-one inches, and a weight of upwards of eight pounds apiece; but such are, now at least, extremely rare. The tusks of females seldom exceed twenty inches in length. In the Pacific walrus the tusks are longer and thicker, and more convergent.
Up to the year 1890 they were still found in innumerable herds where the waters of the Arctic Sea join with those of Behring Strait, and also in Behring Sea; but since that date their diminution has been rapid. Between the years 1890 and 1900 close on 2,000,000 gallons of walrus-oil, and 400,000 pounds weight of ivory were obtained from these regions; thus representing the destruction of not far short of 100,000 animals.
Our party once captured a young walrus and, after a few days, it felt at home and became a favorite among the crew. It quickly formed an acquaintance with an Eskimo dog which was on board. They ate out of the same dish, although "Jamie," the walrus, took good care always to get the larger share. Whenever the dog went to his barrel to sleep, "Jamie" bundled right on top of him, and as doggie rebelled against such a bed-fellow, it usually ended in "Jamie" having it all to himself. He seemed to know his name well, for even if fast asleep, the instant one cried out "Jamie!" he would rouse up, gaze about, and grunt in reply. When alone on deck he appeared a picture of misery, endeavoring to make his way down "'tween deck" after the men. If the cabin door were open he at once waddled in, laid himself before the stove and went to sleep; but if the cabin were empty he would not remain a moment. After being on board four months, he fell ill and died. The expression of this creature's countenance during his sickness was for sympathy from any one who came near. He took his medicine to the last, and when his dead body was thrown into the ocean, regret was felt by all on board. Even the dog mourned the loss of his strange companion.
The walrus is found in vast herds, which frequent the coasts of the Arctic and Antarctic regions, and which congregate in such numbers that their united roaring have often given timely warning to the fog-bewildered sailors, and acquainted them with the near proximity of shore. These herds present a curious sight, as the huge, clumsy animals are ever in movement, rolling and tumbling over each other in a strange fashion, and constantly uttering their hoarse bellowings.
The movements of the walrus when on land are of a very clumsy character, as might be supposed from the huge, unwieldly body of the animal, and the evident insufficiency of the limbs to urge the weighty body forward with any speed. When this creature is hurried or alarmed, it contrives to get over the ground at a pace that, although not very rapid, is yet wonderfully so when the size of the animal is taken into account.
The movement is a mixture of jerks and leaps, and the walrus is further aided in its progress by the tusks. Should it be attacked, and its retreat cut off, the walrus advances fiercely upon its enemy, striking from side to side with its long tusks, and endeavoring to force a passage into the sea. If it should be successful in its attempt, it hurries to the water's edge, lowers its head, and rolls unceremoniously into the sea, where it is in comparative safety.
The walrus is killed when on land or ice either by means of long lances, or with rifles; while when at sea it is chased with special boats and harpooned. Enormous numbers of these animals were killed in the Magdalen Islands, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; but one instance of an enormous destruction of these animals may be referred to in greater detail. This occurred in the summer of 1882, on Thousand Island, lying off the southwest coast of Spitzbergen. Here two small sloops, sailing in company, approached the island, and soon discovered a herd of walruses, numbering, as they calculated, from three to four thousand, reposing upon it. Four boats' crews, or sixteen men, proceeded to the attack with spears. One great- mass of walruses lay in a small sandy bay, with rocks inclosing it on each side, and on a little mossy flat above the bay, but to which the bay formed the only convenient access for such unwieldy animals. A great many hundreds lay on other parts of the island at a little distance. The boats landed a little way off, so as not to frighten them, and the sixteen men, creeping along shore, got between the sea and the bay, full of walruses before mentioned, and immediately commenced stabbing the animals next them. The walrus, although so active and fierce in water, is very unwieldy and helpless on shore, and those in front soon succumbed to the lances of their assailants; the passage to the shore soon got so blocked up with the dead and dying that the unfortunate wretches could not pass over, and were in a manner barricaded by a wall of carcases. The slaughter went on until the men were drenched with blood and thoroughly exhausted, while their lances became so blunt as to be useless. After returning to the ship to refresh themselves and grind their lances, the work of destruction was, however, resumed, and did not cease until upwards of nine hundred animals had been slain. Even then, however, so sluggish and lethargic were the walruses, that several hundreds were still lying on adjacent parts of the island. When I visited the spot six years later the carcases were still lying as they fell, in some instances two or three feet deep, and the stench from them was perceptible for miles out at sea. The worst feature of this great slaughter was, indeed, the circumstance that the perpetrators, owing to the size of their vessels, were only able to carry away a small proportion of their victims.