Day 15 |
Aug 21, 2013

Walrus Island, Canada

By By Kara Weller, Biologist

Co-ordinates: 63º15’ N, 083º44’ W
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 8ºC
Pressure: 989 hPa
Wind: 20 knots

Our destination for the day are two small islands that lie deep inside Hudson’s Bay.
The first, Bencas Island, which we approached around 7 AM was exposed to some really strong winds that blew from the Northeast and had a very large swell. We quickly realized that any sort of activity in the zodiacs would be impossible, and so we continued on our way towards the other island that lay 30 miles away – Walrus Island.

The skies were overcast and the fierce wind continued to blow as we made our way towards Walrus Island. With very low expectations we slowly approached this small rocky dot of land on the horizon, but gradually some small reddish dots appeared on the shoreline. On approach we could clearly see they were a large group of walrus lying around on the grey rocks. Hooray - some wildlife! Everyone headed outside to the outer decks with binoculars to look at these strange creatures.

Due to a lack of soundings in the area and the continuing strong winds, nobody thought any kind of zodiac activity would be possible. However, after some discussions on the bridge, our wonderful captain realized that it would be okay to launch the boats – the ship could stay adrift and make a protective lee for the sidegate, a zodiac with an echosounder could run ahead to take readings of the depth of the water, and guests could go and take a closer look at the walrus. So we did just that.

It was a slightly wild ride to the island, but after bouncing our way there we were able to get a bit of shelter from the wind and swell right next to the island. A small but rocky slope was covered with walrus – several hundred of them lay sleeping in peaceful oblivion to our presence on the rocky shore, making a reddish / brown contrast to the grey stone around. These blubbery, lumbering creatures are quite huge and can reach as much as 2,000 kg in weight (in the Pacific where they are a bit bigger than here in the Atlantic). Only elephant seals are bigger from amongst the Pinnipeds.

Walrus never venture far from the shoreline as they move so slowly on land, so we were surprised to see a few of them quite a long way up the rocky slope – perhaps 40 meters high. It would have been quite an effort to haul oneself up there as a walrus, which may explain why they were sleeping peacefully and not even slightly disturbed by the presence of eight zodiacs hovering in front of them. The walrus closer to the shore side were more active – some shifting to get a better spot to sleep in, some occasionally poking their neighbours with their big tusks, others rolling over to absorb a bit of sunshine that peeped out towards the end of our stay.

A few smaller groups of walrus and young pups hauled themselves out of the water and lay on rocks towards the periphery of the main group, but even they remained undisturbed when we approached in our boats to admire their massive and strange shapes and forms.

The sounds they made were tremendous – and so were the odors once we got downwind.

Once back onboard we enjoyed lunch and an afternoon at sea with a full program of lectures and entertainment and a chance to relax.