A juvenile Atlantic walrus was recently spotted off the Pembrokeshire coast and has since become a celebrity, with some suggesting it should be nicknamed ‘Wally’.
The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) have confirmed that this is the same animal that was sighted the week before on rocks in County Kerry, Ireland and have identified it by white markings on its left flipper and the length of its tusks. This means the walrus travelled 450km (280miles) in just six days!
The walrus is likely to be from either the east coast of Greenland or Svalbard and it remains a mystery how the animal has ended up as far south as the British Isles. Some suggestions are that it could have floated on ice, or it simply could have been searching for food, been disturbed, and sent off course.
Although this is a very unexpected sighting, it is not unheard of around the British and Irish Isles. Since 1979, there have been eight confirmed sightings of walruses in Ireland and they have also turned up in Scotland, the most recent recording was in 2018 when a walrus was seen travelling around various islands for several months. This is not the only arctic species that has been seen around the UK, with a beluga whale spotted in the Thames around Gravesend, Kent in 2018 and in 1949 two narwhals were seen in the Thames and Medway. Bowhead whales have also been recorded in seas around the British Isles in recent years.
Sometimes when animals turn up in unusual locations, they are moved to more suitable conditions. However, due to the size of the walrus (about the size of a cow), it would have to be sedated due to the stress the procedure would cause, so this is unlikely to happen. ORCA’s Head of Science and Conservation said “In the past, when these animals have been spotted around the UK, they have been monitored to ensure they are not in any distress or discomfort and the animals have disappeared in their own time – so you hope that they swim on and find the correct place.”
As lockdown restrictions lift, please remember to be mindful of any wild animal you may see and follow guidelines to minimise any disturbance to them. Do not approach the animal and keep a safe distance, as they are very sensitive. The walrus is likely to be exhausted from swimming such long distances and is probably going to be stressed as it is in an unfamiliar environment.