Walruses are one of the largest pinnipeds, yet despite this, they can move quite fast. Although they do not have legs like other marine mammals, walruses have adapted to travel quickly when they need to. But how fast can they actually move?
Walruses can travel up to 22 mph (35 km/h) underwater, which is much faster than their movement out of water. Although they do not have legs, they use their flippers to move their large body around. These are particularly useful to help them dive underwater.
Keep on reading to find out more about how walruses are adapted to travel in the water and on land, or see our interesting facts about walruses to learn more.
How Fast Are Walruses?
The size of a walrus is typically anywhere between 800kg and 1700kg, but they have adapted to be able to move at a pretty rapid rate.
Walruses spend around two-thirds of their life in the water and around one-third on land1 (source: Seaworld), let’s take a look at how speedy they are in each habitat:
How Fast Do Walruses Swim?
Walruses can travel up to 21.7mph (35km/h) in the water, at an average speed of 4.3mph (7km/h)2 (source: Arctic Museum & Arctic Studies Center, Bowdoin College). Whilst swimming, the fore flippers are held against their body whilst diving or are utilized to change direction. Here, the hind flippers are used to propel themselves through the water column. Walruses propel themselves through the water column by using their hind flippers; alternative strokes are used.
How Fast Can a Walrus Go On Land?
Walrus move slower on land or sea ice compared to whilst swimming. When out of the water, the flippers are used to help them walk. On land, the fore flippers are positioned at right angles to the body. Also, the hind flippers are rotated which allows them to walk on all fours. To stay steady on ice, their hind flippers have thick skin and are tough – this gives them better traction3 (source: K.R.Gordon, Journal of Zoology, Vol. 195, Issue 3, pp.349-367, 1981).
Walruses do not use their flippers to haul out – the act of pulling themselves out of the water to rest on land or ice. Instead, walruses use their tusks to grip the area4 (source: National Geographic).
See our full article to find out more about how walruses use their tusks.
Do Walruses Have Legs?
No, walruses do not have legs. But, walruses are mammals and like most other mammals they have four limbs. Instead of arms or legs, they have flippers which are board hairless limbs well adapted to swimming. Whilst on land, they can also walk on all four limbs.
Walruses have different flippers such as the fore flippers (pectoral flippers) and the hind flippers. These are generally shorter and bonier than other land mammal limbs, with walrus flippers having claws, too. Walruses depend on their flippers to help them travel both within and outside of the water5 (source: K.R.Gordon, Journal of Zoology, Vol. 195, Issue 3, pp.349-367, 1981).
How Do Walruses Move?
Over time, walruses limbs have evolved into flippers. They spend two-thirds of their life in water, so being able to swim effectively is very important.
Walruses also spend time out of the water, for example when resting in between dives6 (source: Arctic Museum & Arctic Studies Center, Bowdoin College). Therefore, their flippers can be used to walk around on, too. Therefore, walruses change the direction of their flippers depending on if they are in or out of the water7 (source: National Geographic).
How Far Can Walruses Dive?
Walruses can dive deeper than 500 meters. However, walruses more commonly dive to depths under 100 meters, generally between 30 to 40 meters. This is because they dive to forage for food, and their preferred prey lives in or above the substrate in shallow waters8 (sources: F.H. Fay and J.J. Burns,Arctic, Vol. 41 No. 3, pp.167–259, 1988 and Wikipedia).
Often in deep water, visibility is poor, so walruses must use their vibrissae (that’s their whiskers and mustache to me and you) to sense where they are and locate food9 (source: Seaworld).
When Do Walrus Begin to Swim?
Pacific walruses begin to swim within days of being born. This means they enter the water, around the sea ice, much sooner than other pinnipeds. However, this makes them similar to other marine mammals such as the beluga whale10 (source: S.R. Noren and M.S. Edwards, Marine Mammal Science, Vol. 36, Issue 2, pp.595-611, 2020).
Do Walruses Have Fins?
No, walruses do not have fins. Other marine mammals have fins that help them travel in water. Walruses use their hairless limbs called flippers to propel and direct them on water. Another use for flippers is to allow walruses to move on land11 (source: Wikipedia).
How Far Do Walruses Travel?
Walruses live in the northern hemisphere, but they are migratory animals and travel long distances every year. Some walruses travel more than 1,853 miles every year12 (source: Arctic Museum & Arctic Studies Center, Bowdoin College). Walruses are recently having to travel further and rest for longer because sea ice is melting: this is particularly the case for the Pacific walrus13 (source: A. Borque-Espinosa, et al, Journal of Experimental Biology, Vol 224, No. 3, 2021).