Children’s stories – Ch 4: Walter the Walrus leaves home

Walter, our young walrus, had just turned 4 years old. This is still very young for you and me, but for a walrus, this is about the time when the male walrus’ leave the comfort and safety of being under their mother’s care. You see, Gwen, Walter’s mom is a single parent, which is the way of walrus’. During breeding season, male and female herds come together and the ladies decide who they are going to fall in love with. The two parents spend some quality time together in winter and decide to start a family. The male walrus needs to attract his “bride” by singing underwater, using his air pouch to make bell sounds and clicks. Can you imagine trying to make a bell sound underwater? The men all jostle for position and often fight each other to show the females how strong they are. They use their tusks, which can be very dangerous, until one male moves away. This leaves the males with lots of scars on their very thick skin.

Gwen decided to tell Walter the story of her and his father. Gwen had fallen in love with the most handsome walrus of all, he sang beautifully underwater, so beautifully that she swam around him for a long time just listening to his melodic call. He was a very mature walrus, called Nimrod, with tusks nearly 1 metre long.

 “Do you know how long a metre is?” she asked Walter, whose tusks at this stage were barely 15 centimetres. Walter shook his head in amazement, he simply couldn’t imagine how long those tusks must be. “But mom,” he asked “How long will it take for my tusks to get that long?” “Don’t be impatient, Walter, it will take you another 10 years or so before you are the size of the big male walrus’, but during that time you can practice your fighting skills and your singing skills and relax with your friends.” “But, it will be all new and I wont have any friends,” wailed Walter, as the enormity of leaving home suddenly struck him. “Of course you will have friends, Jeremy will be with you and there will be a whole lot of other young walrus’ who are just as nervous as you and the big males will take you under their flipper and keep an eye out for you until you are big enough to look after yourself,” said Gwen trying to encourage him. “OK,” Walter sniffed, “If I can go with Jeremy, then at least we can back each other up.” “Exactly,” exclaimed Gwen, “It will be a real adventure and it is all part of growing up as a walrus.”

 “I like adventures,” exclaimed Walter, now excited about his newest adventure, forgetting that he will have to leave his well loved mom. It was all going to be fine, because Jeremy would be there and some of the other young males would also be moving to the male herd.

 “Mom…,” Walter asked with a questioning tone, not sure if he should ask the question or not. “Yes, Walter,” replied Gwen. “Why don’t you come with us? Then we don’t have to be alone in the scary world out there.” Walter asked, already knowing the answer, but hoping that she may agree. “No Walter, it cannot be. Walrus’ have existed for thousands of years and the men go off in their herd and the women go off in a separate herd. There is a good reason for this,” Gwen explained patiently, “If the males and females stayed together we would eat through all the food in an area twice as fast. You also need to learn the ways of the male walrus’ and for that you need to live with them for a while to hone your skills, just as you learnt to be a champion finder and feeder.”

 Walter stuck his chest out proudly as he thought back to his competitions with Jeremy and how he was unbeatable. He was filled with pride and bravado, which was soon to evaporate, but it was enough to get him going for the moment.

 “Walter,” Gwen said gently, “It is time for you to go. Go and find Jeremy, who is probably having the same discussion with his mom, and head North until you reach the pack ice. You will find some male walrus’ there who will show you the way to their herd.” Walter couldn’t stop a tear from quietly running down his face as he said goodbye to his much loved mother and they gently touched noses. “Please come and visit,” pleaded Walter. “I will, I will be there next winter, looking for another handsome, strong walrus, so that you may have another brother or sister, ” promised Gwen.

 Walter hauled himself over to Jeremy, who also looked distraught by the news he was hearing and he wondered if the two mothers had organised this parting to be at the same time. “Look,” said Jeremy’s mother, “Here is your best friend Walter, coming to join you on your next adventure.” “Hello, Walter” said Jeremy morosely, “Shall we go, there is no time like the present.” “Yes, let’s go” said Walter quietly, as Jeremy touched noses with his mother and both he and Walter pulled themselves towards the great unknown. They were both too scared to look back or look at each other, because they each knew that the other was shedding a silent tear.

 They both started swimming north and soon they were joined by other young male walrus’ who were on the same journey of discovery.

 If you were in Walter’s shoes, well walrus’ don’t have shoes, but if you were in the same situation as Walter, would you know where north is? If you look at the map below, Walter needs to follow a path up the map until he is in the Arctic Ocean, where the sea ice freezes. This is where Walter and his newly found friends will hang out for a while to come.

MAP

 They all felt so much better having others in a similar position so they could all tackle the challenges ahead together. They started playing together in the water, having their own mini-walrus Olympics, and of course, Walter was unbeatable in the find and feed category.

 Time went very quickly and weeks went by as they all travelled north, many hundreds of kilometres. They would blow up their little pouches and sleep in the water, in between feeding and swimming. One day, while they were playing games in the water, diving under each other, Jake, one of their newly found friends, exclaimed, “What is that white stuff on top of the water over there?” Jake must have amazing eye sight, because none of the other walrus’ could see it. “Come with me,” shouted Jake, and they all swam as fast as they could until they reached the white stuff, which was of course the pack ice their mothers had told them about. “Wow, Jake, you have amazing eye sight,” exclaimed Jeremy, who was secretly disappointed that he didn’t see the ice first.

 When they arrived at the ice, the all looked at each other and almost simultaneously said “Now what.” How on earth are they going to get on top of this ice, they all thought individually? Jeremy went under water and tried to shoot up as fast as he could to see if he could propel himself high enough out of the water to get onto the ice. He almost made it before slipping ungracefully back into the water. Then Walter tried, but Walter had watched Jeremy and thought to himself “Maybe this is another use for our tusks?” So, Walter went deep down and shot out the water with all his might, and as he came out of the water he stuck his tusks into the ice, like ice picks. He slid a little, but his tusks held him fast. He was then able to inch up onto the ice until he was completely on the pack ice and he lay on his stomach, shouting encouragement to the others, as they used the same methods to get on top of the ice. When they were all up on the ice, they all shouted, “hip, hip, hurray,” and they all felt as if they had won their own Olympics. Now was a time for them to all have a bit of a rest before they decided what to do, now that they had reached the pack ice. They all fell asleep almost instantly.

 A few hours later, they were woken up by a very gruff voice saying, “Ahoy there, young Walrus’, what are you all doing sleeping on the ice here?” They all woke with a start and Jeremy, who was slightly older than the others spoke first. “Good day to you, sir, we are young walrus’ that have left our mothers’ herd and are on our way to find the male herd that we need to join. We have been travelling for many weeks and when we reached the ice, we decided to have a short rest.” “Ah, we have been expecting you,” said the old walrus, with his impressive 1m long tusks and thick, scarred neck. All the young walrus’ could see that this walrus was a Very Important Walrus (VIW). “My name is Nimrod,” said the old walrus, gently, “Come with me, I will take you to the herd and introduce you to your new home.” Walter looked carefully at Nimrod and thought they looked very similar and maybe Nimrod was his father, but he would never know.

 The young herd of walrus, who had travelled hundreds of kilometers, followed Nimrod a few kilometers down the edge of the sea ice, until they reached the male herd. All the males lifted their heads as Nimrod made each young walrus introduce himself and they were duly welcomed to their new family. They would stay with this family for many years before they could start breeding, so they had time to learn the skills of being a strong walrus, who could sing beautifully and attract the loveliest of ladies. Walter knew he would like his new home and he was no longer scared of the life that was ahead of him. Walter had made the traumatic transition that we all have to go through at some point in our lives, whether it is going to school for the first time or going away without our parents. Walter realized that he wasn’t alone in his thoughts and he had many friends, and had made even more by facing those challenges. With that, Walter decided it was time for a nap, before going to find some more food and settle in with his new herd.

Children’s stories – Ch 3: Walter the Walrus turns pink

Chapter 3

Walter the Walrus turns pink

Walter, our young walrus, has become quite a champ at finding clams and sucking them right out of their shells. He, and his best friend, Jeremy, would have competitions to see who could stay underwater the longest. Jeremy was a clear winner here, reaching a mammoth 30 minutes under water with just one breath.

 Walrus’, like many other marine mammals have a lot of oxygen stored in their muscles, so they can stay underwater for a loooooooong time. How long can you hold your breathe for? Aren’t walrus’ just amazing?

 Normally, when they aren’t competing against each other they only stay underwater for about 10 minutes at a time. Walter and Jeremy had what they called “The Walrus Olympics”. While Jeremy was a winner every time for the breath holding competition, Walter came into his own when they had the “finding and feeding” competition. The race here was to find food, clams or oysters, and suck out the contents as quickly as you could. This was one competition at which nobody could beat Walter.

 His best time was six walrus seconds. So the way the competition works is that the contestant goes to the sea floor and when he starts to use his bristles to find food, the second walrus starts counting. To make sure that the time is correct, they count 1 Walrus, 2 Walrus, 3 Walrus, 4 Walrus, 5 Walrus, 6 Walrus and blow me down, Walter has found a clam, put it between his lips and sucked out its contents in 6 walrus seconds. This must surely be a “World Walrus Record!!!.” Jeremy’s fastest time was 10 Walrus seconds and he thought that was fast.

 The adult walrus’, who were sedately feeding on the ocean bottom, became rather irritated with these two youngsters stirring up the sediments. They grumbled a lot, saying things like “In my day, we would never have been allowed to act in such an irresponsible manner.” Then there would be grunts of agreement. Another walrus commented, “I was taught to respect my elders and not to get in the way,” Grumf, grumf, the others agreed. “Yes, the best young walrus is one that is seen and not heard!” Hrere hrere (This being underwater is translated as “Here, here”). This was all until Mabel, a rather old and respected walrus countered, “Actually, I remember a number of you acting exactly the same way. Do not be harsh with these young walrus, they are learning skills that will teach them to survive when they move away from our herd”. “Hmm, grumpf, I guess you are right, they muttered”, without much conviction.

None of the adults’ moaning and groaning put off the 2 young walrus’, who were completely oblivious to the world around them, as they competed for the title of “Finding and feeding”.

After Walter won the Finding and feeding competition the two young walrus agreed it was enough for the day, as it was fairly exhausting being a walrus Olympian, so they said goodbye to each other and headed over to the beach, where the rest of the herd were sunbathing.

 Walter came on shore and soon found his mom, Gwen. When he arrived, he greeted her with a little kiss on the bristles. Walrus’ do touch bristles as a sign of greeting. He lay next to Gwen, it was so comfy and the sun was shining, it was warm, probably 12 degrees Celsius, and he promptly went to sleep. After a good 2 hour nap, he woke up and stretched his tail flippers, then his side flippers and then lay on his belly and made his body a U-shape as he stretched every last muscle he had worked during the morning activities. It was so warm and comfy, lying with the security of the herd and with Gwen next to him, that he thought he may just lie here a little bit longer.

 After another half an hour or so, Walter looked down at his belly. “Aaaaarggh”, he shrieked, like he had just been attacked by a Polar bear. The whole herd lifted their heads up to see what the problem was. Gwen tried to shush him up, while trying to work out what the problem was. “It is OK, everybody,” Gwen said in a loud authoritarian tone, “Walter was just having a bad dream.” In softer tones, Gwen asked Walter what the problem was. “What is the problem Walter? You have been swimming very hard today, has that made you sore?”

 Walter didn’t quite know what to say, well he knew what he wanted to say, but he didn’t know how to say it. “Mom….mom…” he stuttered “I think I have turned into a girl walrus”. “What on earth do you mean, you think you have turned into a girl walrus?” Asked a completely bewildered Gwen, “You were born a boy and you will stay as a boy. In fact, soon you will be ready to join the male herd.”

 Walter, being a young and very sensitive walrus, could feel the tears welling up in his eyes. He never liked to cry in front of his mom, but she was always gentle and understanding when he did. “Well, when I came out of the water nearly 3 hours ago, I was nearly white, well maybe a pale brown and now that I have been lying with the herd in the sun, I have turned pink!” “Aren’t only girls meant to be pink?” Pink is a girls’ colour, so this means I must be a girl.” He asked with a look of horror still etched on his whiskery face.

 Gwen had to suppress her laughter, because she could see how seriously Walter was taking this situation. “My boy,” she said gently, “you are very special to me but there are still a few things I need to teach you before you can leave your mom and join all the big males.”

 “First of all, pink is not a girls’ colour, any colour can be a girls’ colour or a boys’ colour, the choice is entirely yours.” “Alright,” sniffed Walter, trying not to sob, “Then why have I turned pink, when I would rather turn blue?” “This is another super power walrus’ have”, explained Gwen. “It is?” blurted out Walter, not believing a word his mother had to say, as this just seemed preposterous. “Yes,” Gwen explained patiently. “You see you have very thick skin, in fact our skin is between 4 and 5 cm thick? Pinch your skin together she instructed and you will see exactly how thick your skin is.”

 Dear reader, pinch your skin together and see how thick it is. Remember that by pinching it, you will have the thickness of 2 layers of skin. Is it half a centimeter? Perhaps a little less?

Walter did as he was told and pinched his skin and it was really thick, it measured over 8cm in thickness. “Wow mom, that is super thick,” exclaimed Walter. “Exactly,” said Gwen, “Our skin is about 4 cm thick and that is just our skin.” “But….. why do we need such thick skin,” Walter asked, his curiosity having been aroused.

 If you had said it is thick to protect the walrus from the cold and during any territorial fights you would be absolutely correct. This is exactly what Gwen told Walter.

 “Now…do you see how much fat or blubber we have under our skin?” asked Gwen. “That is about 15cm thick, isn’t that incredible?” Walter couldn’t get his head around these numbers, but can you work out what part of your body measures 15cm, maybe your hand, maybe your foot, try it out.  Getting back to our story, a rather confused Walter says “ Well, …I…I  guess so,” who up until this point had absolutely no idea why this should have anything to do with him turning pink.

 “OK, mom, I still don’t understand what this has to do with me turning pink!” muttered Walter with just a hint of impatience. “One thing at a time, Walter,” said Gwen softly, “We live in the Arctic Polar region, sometimes the water temperature is freezing and in winter we will not rest on land we will rest on ice. We need to have very thick skins and a thick layer of blubber to keep us warm in this environment.

 Can you imagine putting on so many clothes that all your layers made an extra 15cm around your whole body? Apart from over heating, I have a feeling that you would probably fall over.

 “So, apart from having a special body to be able to live in very cold areas, we also need to protect ourselves from getting too hot,” Explained Gwen, to an increasingly befuddled Walter. “So, when you go for those Olympian dives in freezing water and stay there for 30 minutes, why don’t you freeze?” asked Gwen. Walter, still not sure where this was going, replied rather hesitantly, “Because I have thick skin and a thick blubber layer?” Exactly, exclaimed Gwen, “Only we have one more special super power,” Walter loved hearing about his super powers, so he could barely contain himself when his mother had said she would reveal ANOTHER super power! “Yes?” cried out Walter and disturbed a few more of the sleeping walrus’. “Shhhhh” said Gwen softly, “We don’t want to wake up the whole herd again.” “Sorry,” Walter said quietly. “Mom what is our other super power,” Walter said in a whisper.

 More for effect than anything else, Gwen motioned Walter to come closer and she talked very softly as she explained their super power of staying warm in freezing water. “You see, Walter, when we are in the water we want all our blood to stay warm, so we keep it deep inside, under our skin, under our blubber, but around all the important parts of us, like our heart, lungs and brain. This is why we look white when we come out of the water, because the blood isn’t at the surface of our skin” “Yeeeees,” Whispered Walter, still trying to work out what this had to do with him being pink.

 “Walter, what do you think happens to our blood when we lie on land and it gets very hot, we have thick skin and lots of blubber, don’t you think we would over heat” Asked Gwen, hoping that Walter would be able to figure this out for himself. “We turn pink,” he shouted with excitement, causing some of the adults to stick their heads up again and mutter something along the lines of “Can’t a walrus have any peace and quiet around here?”

 “Exactly,” said Gwen, “We are so good at conserving our heat, but this means we also need a way of cooling down. We do this by allowing all the blood vessels in our skin to dilate (this is just a fancy term meaning to “get big, or open up) and the blood at the surface of our body loses a lot of heat when it is in contact with the cold air, so we can cool down.” “Aaaaaaaah,” Walter sighed, as he had his light bulb moment, realizing now, that he had turned pink because he was lying in the sun, and to prevent overheating, his blood vessels in his skin became bigger so he could cool down. So he hadn’t turned into a girl at all, it was just another special trick Walrus’ can do, without even thinking about it. “Aren’t we just amazing animals?” he said to Gwen, who let out a deep sigh, and said, “Walter, you are a very special Walrus and yes, we are amazing.”

Children’s Stories – Ch 2: Walter the Walrus learns about his super powers

Chapter 2

Walter the Walrus learns about his super powers

If you remember our young walrus, named Walter, who was just learning the ways of the walrus and the ways of the sea. He had been suckling or nursing his mom, Gwen for 2 years now and it was time for him to start exploring the world out there in walrus land.

He lived far North in the Bering Sea, named after that famous Russian navy Captain Vitus Bering, and there was lots of food for the walrus in that cold water. Learning to get to the food, however, was a bit of a challenge for any young walrus to learn. As you will see from the little diagram below, Walrus’ are like seals, only they fit into a category all by themselves, because they are so unique.

Walter had felt bristles on his face growing and getting tough, “This is a sign”, said Gwen, “That you are getting ready to go out and forage for yourself, but you need to know how these bristles work. Firstly, you need to practice moving each bristle independently of all the others.

(Narrator to reader: can you imagine your father being able to move each bristle on his moustache or beard independently of any others? No, neither can I).

But this is a special trick that the walrus has, is that each little whisker on his or her face can move separately to all the others. Wow, now that would be a party trick. Here Gwen shows us her bristles; both males and females have them because they need them for feeding.

Young Walter struggled with this to start, first of all, all the bristles went to the right, then they’ll went to the left, then up then down and he eventually managed to get half to go left and the other half to go right. Walter would go into the water when it was calm, blow up his little pouch, so he could float without using any energy and he would look at his reflection while trying to move each whisker separately from the rest. He practiced and practiced and practiced and on the third day, he made a break through. If he didn’t think of each bristle, but thought of them as a whole, he could control the whole lot the way he wanted.

So now it was real practice time. He released the air out of his pouch and sank to the bottom of the sea floor. He had learnt by now that a walrus needs to put his chin to his chest, so that his tusks (which are really just modified teeth) don’t dig into the soil. He swam and used his tusks as a sled on the sandy ocean floor, just as he had seen the adult walrus’ do.

He imitated the other walrus’ and blew air into the soil looking for food. This just seemed too easy for Walter, that is, until he breathed in by mistake and had a whole lot of sand up his nose. He shot to the surface, snorting and grunting trying to get this scratchy sand out of his nostrils.

Do you know what it is like when you laugh while eating and food or drink comes out your nose? Well, that is what young Walter had to deal with. He sniffed and snorted and puffed and panted. “What on earth are you doing?” Asked a walrus nearby?” “Whahahahaha, laughed the other walrus, you are meant to blow into the soil not breathe it in”

Walter was now feeling really stupid and he let out some air from his pouch and managed to snort in some sea water. Then there was more coughing and spluttering. Walter was not happy that this had happened or that he was being teased by a teenage walrus (he was a teenager in walrus terms, but he was probably 3 years old in human terms). The older walrus came up to him to comfort him a little, “I am sorry I made fun of you, Walter. I know what it is like because when I was learning to feed, exactly the same thing happened to me”.

Sniffing up the sea water had helped clear out his nose, and he was feeling a little better. “What is your name?” croaked Walter. “Jeremy,” replied Jeremy. “Come with me, Walter, I will help you practice moving your bristles and feeding properly”. Almost instantly they became best friends. So Jeremy and Walter sank down to the sea floor and practiced using their bristles and blowing into the mud.

You see, each little bristle sends a message to Walter’s brain, and tells him where his favourite food is. So the favourite food of walrus is…. What do you think? If you said clams and oysters you would be absolutely correct. So young Walter used his newly found technique to find a clam, he put the entire clam in his mouth, but he couldn’t crush it and it was hurting his mouth as he tried to chew. His mom had never told him how to eat the food. After being wholly unsuccessful, he spat out the clam and went up to the surface, where he could blow up his pouch and just relax in the water. Jeremy was concentrating on finding his own food and didn’t see Walter go up to the surface.

Gwen was relaxing at the surface when Walter shot up and saw her he shouted “Mom, mom, how do I eat the food?” She swam over to him at a leisurely pace as Walter became more and more impatient.

Yes, son, tell me what happened. “Well mom, it was like this, I managed to learn to control my bristles”, “Ooooh” said Gwen, “you are a fast learner”, so I went down to the ocean floor, with Jeremy and all the other walrus’ and I used my new talent, I blew into the soil and I found myself a clam”, “Well, that certainly is a good start, normally we end up snorting up some mud the first time we do this”, Remarked Gwen. “Yes, well I did that too, but I found a clam and I couldn’t get the meat out of it,” said Walter, with tears burning his eyes with frustration, but he was trying not to cry in front of his mom.

“Well, what happened then, young Walter?” she asked, even though she already knew the answer. Walter started speaking very fast “I found a clam, mom, my first clam, and I put it in my mouth then tried to eat it but I couldn’t get the clam out if its shell, so I had to spit it out. I think I will starve for the rest of my life,” he moaned, as he couldn’t help himself and burst into tears.

“There, there,” Gwen cooed in a comforting tone, “you won’t starve, but you have to learn another super power, that makes walrus’ different to just about any other animal out there?”

Walter had stopped crying, sniffed and said, “So what super power is that? Walrus’ don’t have super powers…”

“Ah, that is where you need to listen to your mom, because right now, she knows everything you need to know to survive in the walrus world.” Ok, then, what is our super power?” We, young Walter, have the ability to ……… “(She paused there for effect) “Yes…yes, yes,” said Walter impatiently. We have the ability to suck.” “The ability to suck?” Commented Walter, confused as to how this could possibly help him eat a clam.

“Come with me let me show you”. So Walter followed Gwen down to the bottom of the sea floor, where it was dark but where their bristles took over the work to find the food. Gwen quickly found a clam and indicated to Walter to go up to the surface. They both shot up, with Gwen holding the clam in her mouth. Now she tried to explain to Walter how to eat the food, but it was between her lips and made it difficult to understand “smo wmoth yooooo dooooo ith holid the clum blutween you luops an sik out the contets” (translation: “So, what you do is hold the clam between your lips and suck out the contents”).

Which she promptly did! Walter was speechless, why hadn’t he thought of this instead of trying to chew it and hurt his mouth.

Walter was always an eager beaver, except he couldn’t be a beaver, because he was a walrus. He dived down to the sea floor and used his small, growing tusks as a sled while blowing into the soil. He used his new found powers of using his bristles independently of each other and within minutes he had found a clam, which he was going to eat all by himself. So he did exactly as his mom had said. Put the clam between your lips and suck hard and the clam will come right out of the shell. Walter did this and hey presto, it worked. He was ecstatic; he could now feed himself, although there was a tinge of regret, as he thought about not being able to have a comforting suckle with mom.

He swam up to the surface and found Gwen relaxing on the beach. “Mom, mom,” he cried, ” I did what you said and the clam came straight out of the shell.” You are right, Walrus’ have super powers, we have pouches we can inflate and just hang out in the water, we have tusks for stability and to make us good looking, we have bristles that we can move independently of each other and we can suck.

“Aren’t walrus’ the most amazing animals in the ocean? And don’t I just have the best mom in the whole of walrus hood.” Gwen just smiled as Walter went off to practice his newly found super powers.

He was slowly learning and making his way into becoming an independent walrus, not needing Gwen’s very nutritious milk, but able to feed himself.

 

Children’s stories – Ch 1 Walter the Walrus learns to swim

Chapter 1

Walter the Walrus learns to swim

Our story begins in a veeeeery remote part of the world, this region has such a harsh climate that few people can live there all year around. What area could this be, you ask? Way down South, at the bottom of the world, were we find Antarctica, the highest, driest, coldest and windiest continent in the world? Well, no this one isn’t that remote and probably not that cold, but few people live there. I am talking about a small place on the North Eastern side of Russia on the Bering Sea. Look, I have added in a map for you here, so you can see where the story is being told. Can you see where you live?

But, before we get onto the story, “Why was this called the Bering Sea, you ask?”

Hmm, while that is a diversion from our story, I will give you a brief history of the Bering Sea. “With a name like Bering, maybe that is where we learnt to navigate and get our bearings?” you ask?

That is a good point but it is spelt differently and this Bering was a famous geographer (Geographers are very important people, because they put the world into context,) and that is what Vitus Bering did, as he explored this area starting in 1725 as part of the Russian Navy. Here is a portrait of Mr. Bering. They didn’t have digital cameras in those days and they dressed in funny hats, which showed just how important they were.

His discoveries and explorations were so important that they named a huge sea after him. But Vitus Bering is not the subject of this story, so I need you to keep me on track and tell you the story of Walter the Walrus, who was a very young Walrus who was just learning the ways of the walrus world under the watchful eye of his mother and the rest of the herd.

So little Walter, or perhaps I should say young Walter, because he already weighed 150kg. Just think how much you weigh and work out how many of you would fit into young Walter?

Walrus’, like people, are mammals, which means that they suckle or nurse their calves, and a walrus will stay with mom for about 2 years. Young walrus’ take a long time for their tusks to grow, so Walter’s tusks were still very small. Here is a picture of Walter below (He begged me to put in this photo, as he thinks he is ever so good looking).

OK, OK, I know you want the story.

So one day, early in July, Walter decided to make his first excursion into the ocean to go feeding with his mother, Gwen. Gwen had been encouraging Walter for a few weeks now, to come and see what it was like in the vast sea around them. Walter was terrified. It would be like your first day at school. You don’t know what to expect, there will be lots of strangers, maybe you will become lost or your mother will leave you there. After a lot of gentle coaxing, Gwen managed to get scaredy pants Walter to come and see what the water was like.

At first, Walter was swimming fine in the water, diving down and swimming up, he was having the best fun ever. He was having so much fun that he forgot that he was afraid and so long as there were other walrus’ around him he was as happy as a lark, well, he couldn’t be as happy as a lark because he was a walrus. So he was as happy as a young walrus could be. “Whee, this is fantastic”, cried Walter in his mind, as he didn’t want to shout out loud in case he swallowed an ocean full of water. Walter swam up and down, swam in a spiral, used his tail to propel himself right under other walrus’ to give them a fright. The adults just glared at him, but Walter didn’t notice because he was having so much fun.

Walter wanted to show his mother his joy at being able to swim and he stopped diving down and swimming around, stuck his head out of the water, and waved at Gwen who was keeping a close eye on him.

Disaster was about to strike. As young Walter stopped to wave at his mom, he started to sink, down and down, right down to the bottom of the sea. His two small tusks, which are actually modified teeth, buried themselves, THUD, into the sea floor. Well, I guess it is underwater, so it was more of a gloooooop. Walter panicked, there were lots of other Walrus’ there, using their tusks flat against the sea floor like a sled, guiding them through the water as they searched out oysters and mussels in the sand. Walter couldn’t do this, because his little tusks had just dug themselves into the sand and he was paralysed, partly because he was stuck in the mud and partly through fear and not knowing what to do. “Hleeeeeep”, Walter cried, which would have been help except it was under the water.

He was blowing all his air out, so lots of little bubbles rose quickly to the surface. One of the adults who was feeding close by turned to another and said “Isn’t that Walter, Gwen’s son?” “Yes, indeed, I do believe it is,” replied the other. “What do you think he is doing there, with his tusks buried into the sand? That is a very strange way of feeding.”  “He is also making funny noises, but I can’t understand what he is saying,” said a third walrus.

Gwen, however, had seen her son sink down to the sea bottom and thought he was being very courageous on his first outing into the brave new world of water. She didn’t want to appear overly protective, but she also didn’t want to lose sight of him either. She dived slowly to keep an eye on Walter, when she saw what had happened. Gwen swam as fast as her flippers could propel her, as she reached Walter, his eyes were enough to tell a story of terror and relief all at the same time.

Gwen used her much larger tusks and hooked them around young Walter’s tusks and gently swam up to the surface, where Walter could take a deep breath. GUUUUUULP, nearly choking on that ocean full of water he was trying to avoid earlier.

“Are you OK, Walter?” Gwen asked with genuine concern for her first born. “Yes, Yes I t.h.i.n.k so” replied a rather shaken Walter. Gwen was still supporting him at the surface with her tusks keeping him afloat. “What just happened, mom? Why did I just sink like that?”

“I am sorry my boy, I had forgotten to tell you about how we move around in the water, as you swam away from me so fast. Firstly, We are negatively buoyant”.

“What does that mean”, squeaked Walter?

“It is just a fancy way of saying that we sink. This means that we can feed on the sea floor and not worry about continuously rising to the surface”.

“Oooh that IS useful said Walter, but how do we come up to the surface?”

“Aha, so here is the real trick” said Gwen, “we have this pouch under our throat, it is like a little balloon and when you blow air into it, you will float up to the surface of the water without using any energy and you can hang out at the surface and you wont sink. In fact, we can actually sleep in the water if it is full of air, because it keeps our head right out of the water. Try it.”

So Walter blew and blew and blew.

“Whoa,” shouted Gwen, not too much we don’t want you to pop,” she laughed. He let out some of the air and they both had a good belly laugh together, sounding something like “Grumph, Grumph, Grumph.”

So this was how young Walter learnt to sink and swim. You see, walrus’ will naturally sink if they aren’t swimming. Walter didn’t know this, so when he stopped actively swimming, he started sinking. Once his mom had rescued him and taught him how to use his little air sac, he could float at the surface of the water, at the sea floor, or anywhere he liked. Except for land, unfortunately Walrus’ cant float on land.

Walter was a fast learner and had many adventures, as he grew up to become one of the largest, strongest male walrus’ ever in their herd.

Children’s Stories – learning about the world, without knowing you are learning

Hello all

Some of you may know or not, that I had a bad concussion while escorting a tour in the Seychelles and the recovery time is very slow. It is a long story and an entire post all by itself, suffice to say that I have not been able to work for three months, have had migraine type headaches, myoclonic seizures, hypersomnia (I am improving and now sleeping only about 16 hours a day as opposed to 22 hours a day) and just feel weak and horrible. Anyway, after 2 months of not been able to look at a computer, I am finally looking at one, although I probably should limit computer time.

A good friend, who brought me food early on in my recovery was telling me about the books that her kids read and what she wouldn’t let them read. Then she said to me, “You should write children’s books”. I said “I can’t write I don’t know what kids read,” So she showed me some of the books that they had been reading and they were either fictional stories, like candy floss for the brain or they are encyclopaedia type books with very basic information, some of which is actually wrong!

So, to make a long story short, my brain started working overtime and I wrote my first chapter of a kiddies book, about Walter the Walrus. I cannot tell you why I chose a walrus, maybe because I thought they are really cool animals. I have tried to weave in a story which is completely biologically factual, where kids can relate to the characters, they get given certain things to think about in the story and while the story is generally very positive, Walter has to go through some embarrassing or tough periods that children can relate to, “Such as their first day at school and how when they make friends, it becomes a happy place, rather than an anxiety filled place.

I am open for comments, especially from kids, teachers and parents who have read the stories and can think of better ways of doing things.

So I will be posting the drafts of the stories here, I won’t put the pics in here yet, as I still need to source or edit them.

I hope you enjoy learning about Walrus’

Clouds and Duncan

 

Ice on the rocks – Glaciers in Alaska

The Hubbard glacier is one of the largest glaciers in Alaska and it is quite stunning. We saw numerous carvings, including a massive one on the side of the glacier, where we didn’t see the ice fall, only the incredible splash that came afterwardsP1030381 hubbard glacier panorama_edited-1 sml


1S8A5659 hubbard close up_edited-1 sml 1S8A5673 calving_edited-1 sml 1S8A5697 hubbard close_edited-1 smlWe did a ship cruise in the evening through Icy Bay and even though the weather was pretty miserable, we did get a quick look at one of the large glaciers. I decided that a black and white photo was the way to go to provide the contrast on a foggy raining evening.P1030349 icy bay_edited-1 sml My Glacier – The Holgate glacier (Below) is retreating at a rapid rate and overtime I come here it has gone back further. The bottom photo shows a massive tunnel through which water is pumping out. This water is meltwater between the ice and the bedrock, so its loss will not be immediately obvious.P1030087 holgate glacier_edited-1 sml P1030085 holgate tunnel_edited-1

A taste of Alaska with a Canadian flavour – Otterly magical

This part of the world is famous for its sea otters, another species that was almost exterminated due to its warm soft pelt. These little creatures that lie on their back, keeping their pups in their chest, use stones to break open clams, and wrap themselves in seaweed or kelp to keep them afloat while they sleep are the icons of cuteness. the males, however, have a darker side. They will kidnap pups to mate with the female or steal her food and they have been recorded doing unmentionable things to baby seal pups until the seal dies and then it continues. In spite of all of this, they are super cute!!!1S8A5873 otter stop_edited-1 sml 1S8A5894 3 otters_edited-1 sml 1S8A5870 mom and pup_edited-1 sml 1S8A6633 mom otter twins_edited-1 sml 1S8A6624 relaxing otter_edited-1 sml 1S8A6712 otter raft_edited-2 sml

A taste of Alaska, with a Canadian flavour – Bald eagle soup

Bald eagles galore

On this trip we have been privileged to see many Bald eagles, so many in fact, that they have become almost like trash birds. This is a really good sign, because they were hunted to almost extinction because it was believed that they were depleting the fish stocks. A bounty was paid for every eagle claw that was produced and the lead to a mass extermination of these majestic birds. The Eagles have made a full recovery now and as we have seen are doing rather well.

A fun fact is that the Turkey nearly became the National bird of the USA, but fortunately sense prevailed and the Bald Eagle was nominated. Here are some photos of the eagles that I have taken on the voyage. As the first few days of the voyage had incessant rain, you will see the birds sitting stoically on their perch in the downpour.
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Zupanova River and Steller’s Sea Eagles – 4 July 2016

As we approached the mouth of the river, the Kaminsky volcano peeked out of the clouds

As we approached the mouth of the river, the Kaminsky volcano peeked out of the clouds

Today, we had a very early start, being on standby at 4:30 am to be able to go up the river, when the tide was still high. It was very challenging driving, as we had to follow the boats ahead of us to make sure we didn’t hit a sand bank. I managed, but two of my colleagues managed to get pretty stuck on the way back, while the tide was dropping.

 

Our path up the Zupanova River to find the Steller's Sea Eagle

Our path up the Zupanova River to find the Steller’s Sea Eagle

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The prize was the Steller's sea Eagle, the heaviest eagle in the world, with a beak strong enough to crush a small car. Here it is at its nest, which is about 2m wide

The prize was the Steller’s sea Eagle, the heaviest eagle in the world, with a beak strong enough to crush a small car. Here it is at its nest, which is about 2m wide

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Petyr Bay, Bogoslav Island and Anastasia Bay- 8 & 9 July 2016

We continued our journey North and are now travelling in the Region of Chukotka, where we had a landing at Petyr Bay and the following morning a bird cruise around Bogoslav Island, which is where thousands of birds nest. In the afternoon we headed North towards Anastasia Bay, where we had fantastic views of a walrus haul out and had the chance to see walrus “up close and personal”

The following photos are the pick of Petyr Bay:

A view of where we landed

A view of where we landed

Stunning landscapes

Stunning landscapes

Some of the lovely wildflowers

Some of the lovely wildflowers

Fresh bear tracks, I made a boot print to give some perspective

Fresh bear tracks, I made a boot print to give some perspective

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The following photos are from Bogoslav Island

Harlequin duck

Harlequin duck

Horned puffin - with the white belly

Horned puffin – with the white belly

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Tufted puffin with the black belly and a Donald Trump hairstyle

Tufted puffin with the black belly and a Donald Trump hairstyle

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Double crested cormorants, glistening

Double crested cormorants, glistening

1S8A2775 tufted puffin_edited-1V small 1S8A2789 tufted puffin_edited-1V small 1S8A3016 kittiwakes landing_edited-1V small 1S8A2985 pigeon Guillemot_edited-1V small Pigeon Guillemot, with its bright red feet

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Our final stop before going to Provideniya to clear out of Russia and then onto Nome, Alaska (USA), was Anastasia bay, where we had wonderful walrus encounters.

Up close with walrus

Up close with walrus

Watching a walrus haul out is like watching the grass grow

Watching a walrus haul out is like watching the grass grow

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To sum up our journey, from Japan to Russia and finishing in Alaska

To sum up our journey, from Japan to Russia and finishing in Alaska