Our intrepid leader, Pete Oxford, had with him an underwater camera, lighting and the most heavy-duty waders I have ever seen. No wonder his luggage was slow to arrive. His hope was that he would be able to get close to a Walrus either under water or half above and half below. Given the puncture wounds we had already seen this was to be a hazardous venture.
But you don’t make the cover of National Geographic without taking a risk.
But it was the turbidity that got him not the tusks.
The visibility under water was poor and this in the period when the sun doesn’t set. There can’t be much to see when it doesn’t rise. This is likely the reason that the Walrus has such impressive vibrissae …
Likewise the Bearded Seal
As well as assisting in finding food it has been suggested that the whiskers help to find breathing holes.
Apart from the Walrus, sole representative of the Odobenidae, the remaining seals in the Arctic are all members of the Phocidae, True Seals. There are no eared seals above the Arctic circle. The Phocids are the master divers but the waters we were in are fairly shallow. The records all go to the Elephant Seals in the southern hemisphere.
Among their adaptations for diving seals have nostrils that are closed at rest. It takes a muscular effort to open them to breathe. It may not seem much but it means that a little less oxygen is required when oxygen is scarce and energy is needed to pursue food. This can be seen well in the Harbour Seal photos below.
Even without a heart-shaped nose they look ineffably cute, you can understand why they have their admirers …