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.
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.