Walruses are common in the North Atlantic: about 20,000 are thought to live in and around Alaska and the Russian north-east but are very uncommon off the coast of Britain. So when five-year-old Muireann Houlihan pointed out a large creature in the sea off Valentia Island, County Kerry in Ireland, her father, Kevin can be forgiven for not realizing what it was.
“I thought it was a seal at first, and then we saw the tusks,” Houlihan said. “He kind of jumped up on the rocks. He was massive. He was about the size of a bull or a cow, pretty similar in size; he’s big, big.”
There is a record of a walrus spotted off Ireland in 1897 and a couple of other sightings in the 1980s but it is extremely rare for these Arctic-water animals to come so far south.
Walruses eat shellfish (they can consume up to 2,000 clams a day), then climb up onto a beach, rocks or an iceberg for a nap. This one presumably had an extremely long lunch, fell asleep on a floating iceberg and woke up off the coast of Ireland.
“He could also be island-hopping and went to Iceland and on to Shetland, but that’s unlikely,” said Kevin Flannery, a marine biologist with Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium.
“I’d say he came in out of the Atlantic. After travelling thousands of miles, the walrus is likely exhausted and hungry,” he added.
“Hopefully, he’ll get a few scallops around Valentia. If he regains his strength, hopefully, he’ll make his way back up to the Arctic.”
So was the walrus happy to see Kevin and his daughter after his long, lonely voyage?
Houlihan said the sleepy walrus gave him and his daughter “a bit of a show” when they spotted it. “It’s brilliant. He was sitting on the rock now, kind of posing; at one stage there, he threw up a fin, and it looked like he was giving us all the birdie,” he said.
Now, the same mammal that washed up on the rocks at Valentia Island in County Kerry was spotted in Wales a week ago.
Animal rescue officer Ellie West, who was at the scene, said the animal was likely resting and did not seem to be sick or injured. It is not known why the walrus ended up in Wales after being found in Irelan.
Maybe he just wasn’t into Guinness.