Arctic Walrus Travels Thousands of Miles to Ireland After Likely Falling Asleep on Iceberg

A tusked walrus that was spotted on the coast of an Irish island on Sunday could have arrived after falling asleep on an iceberg in the Arctic, a marine biologist has said.

Kevin Flannery, the director of Oceanworld Aquarium in Dingle, Co. Kerry, told the Irish Independent the animal may have been carried across the Atlantic Ocean before reaching the rocks on Valentia Island.

"I'd say what happened is he fell asleep on an iceberg and drifted off and then he was gone too far, out into the mid-Atlantic or somewhere like that down off Greenland possibly," he said. "That is usually what happens... they fall asleep on an iceberg and get carried off from the Arctic."

In a Facebook comment, the aquarium said the iceberg may have melted off the Greenland ice shelf, leaving the walrus on the Gulf Stream.

Footage of the walrus was captured by Valentia Island resident Alan Houlihan, who said his 5-year-old daughter first spotted the animal on the shoreline as they walked along Glanleam Beach on Sunday.

Houlihan said: "I thought it was a seal at first and then we saw the tusks. 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."

One video showed the walrus making its way onto the rocks, and another showed it on its side while putting one of its flippers over its eyes.

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The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, a conservation organization, said on Facebook that Houlihan estimated the walrus to be at least 6.5 foot long.

It said: "Given the size... and the presence of tusks, we can say with some confidence that it is a young adult specimen, however it's not possible to determine gender as both males and females have tusks."

According to the group, previous walrus sightings were on April 3, 1999 near Clew Bay in County Mayo, and October 5, 2004 in the same location.

It said a walrus was pictured off the Danish coast in February and image comparisons "leave open the possibility" it may be the same animal.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group advised: "We would ask members of the public fortunate enough to see it to observe this wayward traveler from a safe distance and to give it the space it requires."

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While the health of the walrus was not clear, Oceanworld Aquarium also said on Facebook the sighting was rare for the region.

It said: "Their normal range is much further north up around North Russia and Greenland. This wouldn't be the first time a rogue walrus has been found venturing further south [but] this is a very, very rare occasion."

Flannery said the public should give it space, adding: "He's on the rocks asleep. I'm asking for people to leave him rest until he goes back.

"I'd say he came in out of the Atlantic. It's thousands of miles away. If he regains his strength hopefully he'll make his way back up."

Additional video footage of the walrus has been posted to social media over the past day. One recent Facebook update suggests the animal has now moved from its original position on the shore.

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The WWF, a global conservation organisation, says on its website that the walrus species is a "keystone species in Arctic marine ecosystems."

"Walrus migrate with the moving ice floes, but never venture far from the coast as they feed in shallow waters," it says. "They can swim to a depth of around 100m (328 foot) to feed on molluscs and other invertebrates, but on average do not go much deeper than 20-30m (66-98 foot)."

Alan O Sullivan - Walrus image
This photo, taken by local resident Alan O Sullivan, shows the walrus on the shoreline on Valentia Island in County Kerry, Ireland. Alan O Sullivan