Nfld. & Labrador

Looking for love in all the wrong places: N.L. walruses turning heads

Biologist says the walruses in Bay Bulls and Brigus South swam down from the arctic in search of food, fun and females.

Biologist says they've swum down from the arctic in search of food, fun and females

Molly Bawn Whale and Puffin Tours took people out to see this walrus in Bay Bulls on Aug. 23. (Jeannine Winkel)

A mysterious guest is turning heads in Bay Bulls.

You never want to French kiss a walrus.- Andrew Trites, director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at UBC

A walrus was spotted sunbathing on the rocks in Bay Bulls harbour Aug. 23rd causing onlookers to stop, stare and snap a picture.

Molly Bawn Whale & Puffin Tours even re-routed their usual course to bring people over to the animal for a look.

Trites says he can tell the two walruses are distinct because of the length of their tusks. Older animals have longer tusks. (Jeannine Winkel)

According to Andrew Trites, director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia, this may not be the kind of attention the walrus is seeking.

Two young dudes looking for love

He thinks that walrus is a young male, "likely to be a young teenager in walrus years, probably eight or nine years of age or perhaps older," and that he's here feasting on clams and looking for a mate.

Trites says that's exactly what the walrus spotted in Brigus South on Aug. 21 was up to.

This walrus was having a leisurely afternoon on the warm rocks in Brigus South on Aug. 21. (Simon Bruce-Lockhart)

He pegs that walrus at about 1,000 kilograms and thinks he might be a little older than the one seen in Bay Bulls.

"He's probably well into his teens and could possibly be in his early 20s, even," he said.

That particular walrus may be spending a little too much time preening himself for the ladies. According to Trites, his skin is pink because he's spent a little too much time tanning.

A bit of wanderlust

Trites says the walruses, which are Atlantic walruses, have swum here all the way from the arctic, likely from Baffin Bay or Foxe Basin. It's the travelling that makes Trites think they're males.

"Short of looking at the undersides you can't really tell the sex of the animals, but there's a tendency for the males to have a bit more wanderlust in them," he said.

Though they are a long way from home, Trites said it's perfectly normal for two young males to be roaming around, looking for love.

Jeannine Winkel of Molly Bawn Whale and Puffin Tours says this is only the second walrus she's ever seen in 30 years of living in the province. (Jeannine Winkel)

Sadly, he also said these young fellas are going to be disappointed.

"We used to have a population, which we now call the maritime population, and that included Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence," said Trites. "Unfortunately that population was hunted very heavily in the 1600s and by the late 1700s, they were extinct."

Trites says when these two dudes don't find any ladies, they'll just roll their massive, tanned, well-fed bods off the rocks and swim home again.

More phones, more pictures, better science

Although they won't find love in Newfoundland, their time hasn't been completely wasted. Bystander pictures of the walruses help scientists like Trites get a better picture of what's going on in the country's waters.

"[Marine mammal] scientists are few and far between in Canada," he said. "Increasingly, we rely on reports from fishermen and from people who are just out exploring on the coastline."

A kayaker admires the walrus in Bay Bulls. (Submitted by Jim Walsh)

He also says the walruses are likely having a pretty good feed in our waters right now. Without any other walruses around, the clam supply is probably top-notch. And though some might think they use their tusks to eat, Trites says this isn't true.

"Under water, they are essentially sucking the clams out of the mud."

"They've got probably the strongest suction of any animal … they could literally suck the insides out of another animal if they made lip contact. I've been told you never want to French kiss a walrus."

This walrus swam to Bay Bulls all the way from the arctic. (Jeannine Winkel)