Franz Josef Land Expedition: Walruses in the Mist

National Geographic media team. (Photo by Lucie McNeil)

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala is setting off to explore Franz Josef Land, one of the most remote archipelagos in the world, only 900 km from the North Pole. Home to polar bears, whales, seals and more, the team will investigate how global warming may be affecting this crucial ecosystem in ways we still do not fully comprehend.  Follow his adventures throughout the month.

By Lucie McNeil, Expedition Team Member

We’ve started to see several curious walruses swimming ahead of our dives around Tikhaya Bay, and particularly Rubini Rock (pictured), although we are not expecting to see any large walrus rookeries until we move further on to other areas.  These Atlantic walruses live most of the year on the ice floes, and head closer to shore as the ice breaks up in July.

Photo by Lucie McNeil.
A younger walrus follows the National Geographic media team around Rubini Rock. (Photo by Lucie McNeil)

Well below the screeched warnings of little auks, kittiwakes, ivory gulls, fulmars and guillemots speed-landing on Rubini’s stunning rock face perches, they pop from a misty green surface, their small, well-tuned ears and squinting, poor-sighted eyes making for a characterful face.

Incredible tusks – the scientific name for walrus is Odobenus rosmarus or ‘toothwalker’ – can be used to move over a silty, gravelly sea bottom – but it is their unbending facial whiskers, sprouting all over the famed, brilliant snout which feel for treasured mollusks. The muscle is sucked out cleanly and the shell spat away.

The walruses we have seen so far have simply been diving and watching from a mutually respectful distance until one shocked itself and Manu, in a foggy yet brief eye-to-eye encounter underwater.

NEXT: Read All Franz Josef Land 2013 Blog Posts


The Pristine Seas: Franz Josef Land expedition is sponsored by Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water. 

Marine ecologist Dr. Enric Sala is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who combines science, exploration and media to help restore marine life. Sala’s scientific publications are used for conservation efforts such as the creation of marine protected areas. 2005 Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, 2006 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, 2008 Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum.

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